STATEMENT BY H.E. THE GOVERNOR
ON THE AUDITOR GENERAL’S SPECIAL REPORT
ON GOVERNMENT’S FINANCING OF BVI AIRWAYS’ DIRECT AIRLIFT TO MIAMI
June 9, 2020
As you are aware from previous public statements, the Auditor General undertook a special audit into the Government’s financing of the BVI Airways Agreement which was intended to provide a direct airlift to Miami. This followed a number of concerns raised by a number of people, including myself, about the Government financing of this failed project.
The Auditor General submitted her final Special Report to me on 7 February 2020. I subsequently sought to discharge my duties fully in line with the timescales set out in Section 20 of the Audit Act in referring the report to Cabinet on 23rd April with the intention of it being brought to the House by 7 May. With the focus rightly on our response to Covid-19 this report has understandably taken a while to reach the point of being laid, but I am pleased that the report has now been laid before and discussed by the House of Assembly.
Now that the report has been through the proper process and has been discussed by the House, I can update you about actions in hand to address some of the concerns raised within the report.
The Report addresses a number of issues, in relation both to how the project was carried out and the parties involved. It also highlights significant lessons for Government to learn on the approach to such contracts and projects – lessons which need to not just be implemented in rules and procedures, but also in practice.
This Special Report has highlighted a number of areas where there have been failures to follow proper processes: in seeking competitive options for contracts; in failing to adopt legal and other advice; in the execution of a contract, and in weaknesses in financial and project performance management systems.
This is all hugely concerning. What also concerns me is the fact that previous audit reports have highlighted similar failures which have also led to the loss of Government’s revenues.
Notwithstanding the accountability procedural measures mentioned in the Financial Management Act, its supporting regulations, the reporting processes that are in place for projects of this nature, we now need to determine how have the current systems and practices enabled this to happen? I believe that this and previous audit reports show that there are fundamental deficiencies in our systems, practices and procedures which are designed to protect public finances and ensure proper project management.
This report includes serious findings and recommendations. I have shared a copy of the report with both the Deputy Governor and the Commissioner of Police so that they may independently review the findings and consider any further actions required within their respective areas of responsibility as they deem appropriate.
I am pleased to see appropriate action is being taken forward. The Commissioner of Police has undertaken steps to launch a criminal investigation based on the contents of this report. I was pleased to support the Commissioner’s request to appoint independent financial investigation experts to set the wheels in motion for the investigation and I am grateful to members of the National Security Council for agreeing to the funding.
Once his investigation has concluded, further investigations can commence, including in relation to any potential breach of rules and regulations by public officers. The Deputy Governor will lead on that work.
Separately, I will be following up with the Honourable Minister of Finance and all of Cabinet to ensure that the systems are improved to address issues raised in this and earlier reports to ensure that new, tighter practices are adopted to further ensure full accountability and transparency for Government funds. This should not be able to happen again.
As you would expect, the criminal investigation now needs to take its course and we must be patient in waiting for it to come to a conclusion. I will not comment further whilst it is underway.
However, I do want to assure you that I will be making sure that the recommendations of the report are implemented appropriately and swiftly. Everybody, including public officers and private individuals alike, should continue to feel confident to carry out and conduct their work in line with the values of the public service and the laws and Constitution of the Territory.
I would also like to take this opportunity to reaffirm my commitment to good governance, transparency and accountability – which you hear me speak of regularly. These are not just important as a set of values by which to guide us, but also as determiners of success for our Territory. We need to stand up for them and ensure high standards are upheld and are improved upon. This report, and others before, have proven that there is room for improvement. Let’s seize the opportunity and deliver a positive outcome from it. Now more than ever, I remain firmly committed to these principles and the need to have the highest standards of integrity in the Territory.
The report also demonstrates the importance of other public service transformation initiatives, which are an ongoing priority for me involving ambitious reforms led by the Deputy Governor and his team and where I hope Cabinet will give their full support. Work is already underway on the introduction of an Integrity in Public Life Act, revised Procurement legislation, a Ministerial Code and clearer and more accountable Public Service Management codes, policies and procedures. To bolster the current legislation, this Territory needs to implement more rigorous and transparent processes to safeguard our public finances and remain accountable to the public. I look forward to working closely with the Government to progress this shared agenda.
Finally, I will close by thanking the Auditor General, who holds a constitutionally independent role, and her staff for their work on this report and their continued commitment to upholding the highest standards of good governance and accountability in the Territory.