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Senators Oppose Bill to Endorse Illegal Contracts

Sept. 8, 2004 — Three members of the 25th Legislature immediately expressed opposition to a bill submitted by Gov. Charles W. Turnbull for their consideration Wednesday. The bill seeks to authorize the Property and Procurement Department commissioner to endorse contracts that have been entered into in violation of the V.I. Code.
The bill submitted would grant the commissioner of Property and Procurement the authority to approve purchase orders or contracts that had been entered into in violation of V.I. statutory procurement requirements, as long as the commissioner determined that the approval would be in the best interest of the territory. The bill gives carte blanche to the commissioner if "the government has not acted fraudulently or in bad faith," and if "justification has been provided for the goods or services."
The bill as proposed could, if given the blessing of the Property and Procurement commissioner — currently Marc Biggs — cover any and all payments made on government contracts, going back to Jan. 1, 2003, whether or not they were legally entered into.
In a release sent from her office shortly after Turnbull sent his bill from Government House, Sen. Lorraine L Berry said, "I cannot believe the Legislature is asked to ratify a proposal in which contracts were given not only in violation of statutory procurement requirements, but in which bad faith was a factor." She went on, "If ever there were a reason for the populace to conduct a protest march against the Legislature, should it approve this notorious proposal, this endorsement would be considered justifiable cause."
Berry said she would not support such a measure. In fact, she said, the governor's request shows the need for her proposed Government Procurement Act of 2004, which is currently before the Senate Government Operations Committee. Berry said her bill would ensure "honest governance" in the procurement process.
Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg also expressed his opposition to the bill. Donastorg said he knew this issue was coming forward, stemming from meetings that Senate President David Jones recently held with members of the governor's financial team. (See "Senators Trade Barbs Over Nature of Meetings".)
Jones denied claims that Turnbull's proposal came as a result of meetings he held with the governor's financial team.
"I don't understand the rationale for this bill, until I get testimony from the administration," Jones said, adding that the administration has to justify the amendment to the code.
Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone, chairman of the Senate Government Operation Committee, said Wednesday night that Jones has had the bill since Sept. 3, but did not release it to the other senators until Wednesday. Malone also said there is speculation that the administration is trying to pay some of the contracts because a court case is approaching.
While Malone said he understood the intent of the legislation, he too opposes it. "This attempt to amend the law to pay individuals who did work for the government without contracts is ingenuous," Malone said. "That's not the way to solve the problem."
He said, "I have an issue with amending the code for this. It leaves it open for more corruption to take place."
Malone said because of this proposed amendment to the code, he has placed Berry's bill on the agenda for a Sept. 21 hearing.
"I took it off the agenda many times to suit the administration, but not anymore," Malone said, adding he is a co-sponsor of the bill that seeks to reform the procurement process.
Property and Procurement has already been cited for awarding professional service contracts in violation of the V.I. Code.
In 2002, the Interior Department's Office of the Inspector General released an audit that gave failing grades to Property and Procurement in all three areas reviewed. They were: whether the V.I. government awarded professional service contracts in accordance with procurement requirements of the V.I. Code, whether contractor performance was monitored, and whether contractors were paid in accordance with provisions of their contracts.
According to the report, the government issued 388 professional services contracts totaling approximately $100 million with gross disregard for the contracting process, during Fiscal Years 2000 and 2001. The auditors found that V.I. government agencies "regularly violated the procurement process."
This year four former government officials were indicted on charges of bribery, fraud and conspiracy relating to the government contract awarded Global Resources Management in 2002 for sewage system repairs on St. Croix. (See most recent story: "Four Again Plead Not Guilty in Sewage Contract Case".)
If Turnbull's proposal became law, the commissioner of Property and Procurement could continue to award contracts to businesses, even though the contracting process was done in violation of the V.I. Code, once the commissioner deemed it was in the best interest of the territory.
Biggs did not return calls to his office Wednesday.

Editor's note: Shaun A. Pennington contributed to this story.

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