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Sowande Uhuru lashes HOA contract award system to fellow legislators

- Says system unethical; prone to corruption
Natalio Wheatley aka Sowande Uhuru. Photo:supplied
ROAD TOWN, Tortola, VI – Social commentator Natalio Wheatley aka Sowande Uhuru has once again criticised the legislative measure that allows Members of the House of Assembly (HOA) to have the support of their colleagues in receiving government contracts, some of which may result in conflict with their work in the legislature.

“This is a popular topic due to Honourable [Marlon] Penn’s [receiving permission to take up a] contract with the Financial Services Commission [FSC] recently voted on in the House of Assembly,” said Mr Wheatley in an exclusive interview with Virgin Islands News Online. Premier Dr. the Hon. D. Orlando Smith brought a motion before the House at the last sitting that was passed on December 18, 2012; to allow Hon. Penn to take up a paid contract with the FSC.

Mr Wheatley described the system as one where legislators pardon their colleagues behaviour knowing the same privilege would be extended to them. “For instance, I have never seen so much unity between Government and Opposition as with this particular vote concerning this last vote in the HOA,” Mr Wheatley said.

He made it clear that he had publicly criticised this practice way before this current example. “Under the former Virgin Islands Party administration this was done for Honourable Vernon Malone, Honourable Vincent Scatliffe, and the current Premier, who was leader of the Opposition at the time," Mr Wheatley disclosed.

“I was opposed to it then, and I am opposed to it now,” he continued, “I believe representative Penn to be an honourable man, and in my view, bears the least amount of responsibility in this matter.”

Noting that it was abundantly clear that this is a regular occurrence in the House of Assembly, Mr Wheatley said, “I believe it is prone to abuse.” He suggested that Government should reconsider this provision in the constitution for a few different reasons.

“Firstly, I think that representation [in the HOA] is a full time job and it requires representatives’ full attention. There are many problems that need to be solved that require complete time, focus, and energy”. The commentator believes that there is enough talent and skills in the Territory to accomplish tasks without having to call on legislators. “Many of our people need employment, and legislators should leave the opportunities to them,” he added.

Where a lack of skills existed, he related, it is the job of our government to fill the gaps in the labour force through education and training. “Heaven forbid something happens to our legislators; various tasks must still be accomplished,” he offered.

Mr Wheatley also reminded that legislators campaigned for and accepted their job fully understanding the compensation they would receive. According to Mr Wheatley, Premier Dr the Honourable Dr. D. Orlando Smith stated recently that back benchers’ salaries were quite low and needed to be supplemented, “but I believe that rather than seeking other work, legislators should share information with the public concerning their compensation package,” he said, “If it is inadequate, I am sure that people will support raising it, but there are many people unhappy with the allowances representatives are receiving.”

Noting that he was open to correction, he said, I believe that some current legislators were even criticising the previous administration for the housing allowance; an allowance he said that the current administration restored after cutting it by $500 per member in the previous calendar year.

The budget estimates reveal that legislators receive tens of thousands of dollars of allowances every year, including entertainment, phone, office, and travel allowances. “When combined with their base salary, Representatives, who are not Ministers, receive close to $100,000 per year,” Mr Wheatley said.

He added, “Rather than comparing their salary to high paid Permanent Secretaries, Legislators should compare their salary to struggling single mothers making minimum wage. They have to live in this society too.”

According to Mr Wheatley, “This type of practice is prone to corruption.”

He felt it is unethical for legislators to award government contracts to entities in which any legislator has a financial interest. Even if the legislator in question does not participate in the decision, a “you scratch my back, and I scratch yours” culture can develop, Mr Wheatley argued.

“I think our legislators are out of step with the population with this provision in the constitution,” Mr Wheatley felt, “and they should protect the integrity of our political system by rectifying this as quickly as possible.” 

Prior to the passing of the motion in the HOA, Third District Representative Hon. Julian Fraser RA noted that if his advice was asked regarding whether or not a member of the House should exercise their right under the provision, he would advise against it, but noted that it was only his belief and the right was provided for under the constitution and had been extended in the past to members. He added that it is a member’s prerogative to exercise this right at any time they wished.

Hon. Fraser further stated that he would not personally indulge in it because of the circumstances out there as a politician. Opposition Leader, Hon. Ralph T. O'Neal OBE was in full support of the motion.

17 Responses to “Sowande Uhuru lashes HOA contract award system to fellow legislators”

  • Not true (15/01/2013, 09:08) Like (6) Dislike (1) Reply
    The Opposition spoke out against it so go back & check your facts. There was no unity between Government & Opposition on it. The Government has the majority so they forced it through & passed it. Now all who run & win or loss with NDP are rich even the backbenchers except AlVera & Delores. This is pure advantage.
    • yes true (16/01/2013, 14:48) Like (0) Dislike (5) Reply
      it is true ralph and others did say they were ok with it
      • To yes true (21/01/2013, 02:14) Like (0) Dislike (0) Reply
        Only Ralph in the Opposition agreed for Marlon to get the job. Not another one spoke in favour of it so stop telling lies.
  • Fed Up (15/01/2013, 09:20) Like (14) Dislike (0) Reply
    I agree with Mr. Wheatley 100% nuff said
  • ok (15/01/2013, 10:09) Like (9) Dislike (0) Reply
    the government and the opposition are for once thick as THIEVES
  • ooooo (15/01/2013, 10:13) Like (6) Dislike (0) Reply
    those ndp's are no good
  • Eagle and Buffalo (15/01/2013, 10:29) Like (9) Dislike (7) Reply
    Elected officials, appointed officials and civil servants actions and behaviour must always be about protecting the common good. And must avoid actions that puts his/her personal or financial interest ahead of the public interest. Especially, they should avoid any conflict of interest---using their positions as a passport for personal, financial or political gain.

    Conflict of interest interferes with basic ethical principle of fairness and trust. Further, it causes the public to lose confidence and faith in the integrity of government decision making process. Additionally, public officials are not absolved of their responsibility to avoid conflict of interest by being transparent. Transparency is not a disinfectant for conflict of interest. Moreever, even the appearence of impropriety undermines public faith and trust.

    In addition though an action may be legal, it may not be the right thing to do. Doing things within the confines of the law is doing things right but public officials must do the right thing. As noted earlier transparency is no disinfection for conflict of interest. If it looks like a duck, waddles like a duck and quacks like a duck, it is a duck. The total silence of most HOA members on this issue is deafening. It raises many question, for silence speaks volume.

  • jack (15/01/2013, 10:37) Like (0) Dislike (23) Reply
    If sowande think he bad why he do not try running against malone??? Licks for soooo
  • ABC (15/01/2013, 10:45) Like (2) Dislike (0) Reply
    Excuse me!!! Those members of the House who were given permission to fill positions in the Service sought permission BEFORE they were appointed. Is this the case with Mr. Penn? The NDP would not provide you with the records for obvious reasons. May I ask, wasn't the former Speaker of the House kicked out of Office for this very reason? The law does not make provision for "after the fact clearance" to fill positions in Government. Please, the law is the law, majority has nothing to do with this. But, only in the BVI.
  • Lb (15/01/2013, 11:39) Like (1) Dislike (25) Reply
    Firstly, I agree that it is a full time job, but our representatives, who are the LEADERS of the country, are not compensated to that level. Back Benchers barely make $40k a year which is less than even their subordinates! But he wants them to not have any other job? How is Penn's job a conflict?

    Secondly it MAY be prone to abuse if there is a true conflict! But to this point, there has been NO abuse nor has there been any conflict wether it was Scatliffe, Premier, Malone, Penn or others.

    Natalio needs to stop finding fault with everything.

    Imagine he has a problem that the members of the HOA agree on something! Really!

    Well I have a problem that you don't know your own name!
    • ABC (15/01/2013, 19:11) Like (6) Dislike (1) Reply
      For crying out loud, the man nets over $95,000 a year as a Legislator. Honesty is the best policy.
  • -------------- (15/01/2013, 17:52) Like (0) Dislike (0) Reply
    having two jobs bores me, but, wait, I love $$$$$.
  • Disinterested (15/01/2013, 21:34) Like (1) Dislike (0) Reply
    Public servants, politicians, civil servants, volunteers...etc,, are expected to adhere to a higher level of action, performance and behavior than private citizens. They are expected to have a strong ethical foundation; and must earn and maintain the trust and confidence of the customers they serve. Avoiding conflict of interest is one of the hallmark of good governance. Politicians are the policy makers and cannot be feeding at the trough that they are suppose to regulate. Further, they should even avoid the appearance of any action that can be construed as a conflict of interest.

    Serving in the HOA is a priviledge granted by a plurality of voters every four years. The privilege is for taking action in the interest of the public good. It is not to feed the personal need of politicians. The privilege of serving necessitates that there will be sacrifices. As such when one decides to run for election one should expect to make these sacrifices and willingly adhere to them. Conflict of interest=ineffective governance.

    • LMB (16/01/2013, 10:09) Like (0) Dislike (1) Reply
      Where is the conflict for Penn? Installing and monitoring the IT system is a conflict?
  • x (16/01/2013, 20:29) Like (0) Dislike (0) Reply
  • fox (17/01/2013, 01:11) Like (1) Dislike (1) Reply
    sowande is always a day late and a dollar short...

  • Clean up (17/01/2013, 08:21) Like (2) Dislike (0) Reply

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