April 3, 2003 – Allegations by the 25th Legislature's Minority Caucus of secret meetings and a conspiracy to cover up the government's "financial crisis" prompted a response on Thursday. The majority bloc denied the accusations but didn't address the minority's call for a hearing on Monday to take testimony from administration financial officials.
Sens. Raymond "Usie" Richards, Carlton "Ital" Dowe, Norman Jn Baptiste, Celestino A. White Sr. and Almando "Rocky" Liburd signed a letter hand-delivered on Wednesday to the office of Senate President David Jones, who is off-island, requesting a meeting of the full Senate to "finally assess the current financial status" of the government.
That same request was made in early January but circumvented by the majority bloc, the letter said. The minority senators said that this plus across-the-board cost-cutting measures undertaken by the administration last week and approval by the Public Finance Authority on March 27 of a $7 million loan to the government: "makes it clear that there exists a conspiracy to hide, cover up or muffle the government's 'financial crisis.'"
The letter said the PFA's loan "to cover the government's operational costs" and a "secret plan to borrow another $25 million are of grave concern and importance to the Minority Caucus."
Reports have been circulating that the Turnbull administration is seeking a line of credit in the amount of $25 million from a local bank to cover payroll in May.
The minority senators said the fact that there are three paydays for government workers in May is bringing "fear and concern to every resident of the Virgin Islands."
The letter asked that a meeting with Turnbull's financial team be scheduled for next Monday to provide lawmakers the financial information requested back in January.
"Specifically, we have not yet received the promised information on the total outstanding monies owed by the government; an accurate and complete report on the balance in each account of the government, inclusive of outstanding obligations; and total revenues collected to date by all revenue-generating entities of the government," the letter said.
They asked that the Finance commissioner, Office of Management and Budget director, tax assessor, Internal Revenue Bureau director, V.I. Lottery executive director, Port Authority executive director, Public Works commissioner, Public Finance Authority director and the government's bond counsels appear at the hearing.
The letter also requested copies of all PFA contracts, bond-proceeds information and reports on the status of all capital projects, GARVEE bond-funded projects and federal highway funds, along with other pertinent information to "properly inform and educate all members of the 25th Legislature on the true and factual" financial status of the government.
"The time for fiscal responsibility and government transparency is now," the letter said.
Majority denies secret meetings, conspiracy
But in a release titled "The Majority Caucus Sets the Record Straight" distributed on Thursday, Sen. Douglas E. Canton Jr., majority leader, denied the allegations of secret meetings and conspiracy. He said the Majority Caucus asked, "like any other legislator(s) can," to meet with the governor and discuss the Golden Gaming resort and casino project and a plan by the government to build a convention center adjacent to the resort. (See "$41M PFA bond issue OK'd for convention center".)
The purpose of the March 27 meeting, the statement said, was to discuss Golden Gaming, the convention center and economic development on St. Croix. "The resulting re-commitment of the V.I. government to that project speaks for itself," the statement said.
"The Majority Caucus has set out from its inception to take the high road, to promote solutions and to capitalize on the talents of all members of the Legislature," it said, adding that, "being truthful and objective are high ideals that we espouse."
Referring to the minority bloc's Wednesday release and letter to Jones, the majority release said that "misleading allegations and lack of professionalism displayed by such offensive rhetoric has no place at the Legislature."
The Democratic Majority Caucus, Canton wrote, "remains committed, as all legislators should be, to uncolored financial transparency and to obtaining the facts to that end."
As to the minority's request for a Monday hearing with administration fiscal officials, the majority statement said the request "parallels matters under consideration" by the majority that "will be addressed in a timely manner because the people of the Virgin Islands deserve to know the details."
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