In a four-minute recorded statement on Thursday, Gov. John deJongh Jr. issued his reaction to a press release from Senate President Shawn-Michael Malone, which was itself a response to an earlier radio address by deJongh.
On Wednesday, deJongh released a 14-minute recorded statement that, according to him, was meant to outline the territory’s position with respect to the Hovensa negotiation and to discuss the clarifications requested by members of the Senate who opposed the agreement on the Sept. 7 voting.
On the same day, Malone sent out a sharp rebuke through a press release.
“Rather than go on the air to frighten the public and blame the 30th Legislature for all of this territory’s fiscal woes, the governor should take steps to send down a wholly legal agreement with Hovensa that protects the interests of the people of the Virgin Islands," Malone said in the press release.
On Thursday deJongh said, “I’m not interested in the blame game with the senator,” continuing that “ I just want jobs for St. Croix, the Fiscal Year 2014 budget and the pension reforms.”
According to Malone, senators were scheduled to meet with deJongh on Tuesday to discuss some pressing issues, but deJongh canceled the meeting and decided to do a radio broadcast instead.
DeJongh dismissed the claim, explaining that one senator approached him regarding a meeting with his financial team and that he agreed, but only with regard to the budget for FY14. He added that the senators could not get back to him on whether or not a budget proposal was already in place.
By refusing renegotiation, Malone’s release stated, deJongh is “asking senators to sign a document behind closed doors,” an act that according to legislative counsel violates the Virgin Islands Code.
“I don’t want anyone to do anything that’s illegal,” the governor responded. “What I want to know is that if I go back to Hovensa, there are enough senators to reconsider to have a positive vote. That’s all I wanted.”
A recurring point in deJongh’s Wednesday address that elicited the most reaction in Malone’s release pertained to the Legislature’s inaction on the Hovensa agreement and deJongh’s claim that he has yet to receive any “meaningful suggestions” from members of the Senate on how to improve the agreement.
“Year after year, the Legislature has refused to grasp the nettle and act,” said deJongh in his Wednesday address.
Malone disagreed in his release, saying, “I sent a letter outlining very specific suggestions for improving the Hovensa agreement so that senators would be able to ratify it in good conscience, and the governor refused to reopen negotiations.”
DeJongh agreed that he received the letter, dated Aug. 28. He also enumerated the instances that he communicated with the Legislature following receipt of the letter, including a meeting with Malone on Sept. 3 and a letter to the Senate through Malone on Sept. 7, stating he is willing to discuss Hovensa.
According to deJongh, his last meeting with Malone regarding Hovensa was on Sept. 11, when he was told that Malone would get back to him in two weeks.
“Two weeks is a long time to wait for a paycheck,” deJongh said.
In his press release, Malone also appealed to two legislative opinions that pointed out “major deficiencies, and even illegalities” in the agreement with Hovensa. DeJongh responded that such interpretation was fundamentally flawed.
“I would never sign an agreement that abdicated the authority of the government to continue a lawsuit or any litigation going on with Hovensa right now,” he said.
One of those flaws, according to deJongh, was the assertion that a Hovensa sale resulting from the passing of the Fourth Amendment Agreement would allow Hovensa to get off “Scot free” on any current lawsuits.
“That’s not the case,” he said. “We’re only dealing with the concession agreement and, in fact, the concession agreement that I’m asking them to sign only gets us to see if there’s a sale. It’s the approval of the sales process. It’s not the approval of a new concession agreement, which has to go back to the Legislature.”
DeJongh also responded to claims that Hovensa can execute a sale without the Fourth Amendment, saying Hovensa is unlike any other company deciding to sell.
“This is a major company within our community that has over 1,800 acres and has an existing agreement with the government,” he explained. “Any purchaser would want to know that the government is willing to negotiate with them, and what this does is it structures a sale that indicates that the government is willing to consider a concession.”
DeJongh emphasized that it is the Legislature’s turn to move.
“It’s in the senators’ court right now because they have the right to bring up the agreement again,” he said. “I would do anything I can to facilitate the agreement.
DeJongh summed up his position on Hovensa, saying, “At the end of the day, this is not about Hovensa; this about St. Croix and this is about jobs. They want to leave; we want them to leave; I want the job activity created in that facility.”