COI report calls for a thorough review of BVI’s social protection systems

The Commission of Inquiry (COI) report called for a thorough review of the BVI’s social benefit and subsidy system.

The report’s author, Commissioner Sir Gary Hickinbottom, said this should also include grants received from Members of the House of Assembly (HOA) as well as grants from various government departments.

The commissioner said the scope of the review should evolve towards a more open, transparent and single benefit system, based on clearly expressed and published criteria, without unnecessary discretionary powers.

According to Sir Gary, “such discretionary powers should only be retained where necessary; and, where such powers are maintained, then they should be subject to clearly expressed and published guidance.

He further suggested that the review should be carried out as soon as possible by a body created for this purpose and said that it should draw on experience and expertise within the BVIs and include input from experts. regarding the design of any new program.

Sir Gary suggested that this review should not wait for the outcome of other reviews such as a draft constitutional review for example.

Prime Minister Dr Natalio Wheatley yesterday announced a move away from the devolved way in which welfare was paid to BVIs, but it is unclear what review, if any, has been carried out in this regard.

Full Audit on HOA Grants

In the meantime, Sir Gary has recommended that previous grants paid out by the HOA be fully audited by the Office of the Auditor General or a similar independent body and presented to the governor once concluded.

He said this should include recent COVID-19 assistance grants as well as grants to HOA members that have been awarded within the past three years.

According to Sir Gary, this should be carried out even in the absence of any probable paper trail, as has been the case in the past.

“While I appreciate the difficulties of such an audit in circumstances where there is a lack of documentation, an independent audit investigation should allow for any other appropriate action, such as a criminal investigation and the recovery of public funds. “, said the commissioner.

He said those recoveries should include any public officials who may have acted improperly in allowing or making the grant available.

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