Feb. 22, 2004 This weekend Sen. Emmett Hansen II provided further details regarding legislation he's drafting to provide the Inspector General's Office with prosecutorial powers and additional funding. Hansen believes the bill would go a long way in solving the territory's fiscal accountability dilemma.
Hansen presented his plan last Tuesday night at a forum on UVI's St. Croix campus where Delegate Donna M. Christensen and Sen. Lorraine Berry defended their individual proposals to help bring financial accountability to the V.I. government. (See "Another plan advanced to address fiscal crisis".)
Hansen said his bill would give the I.G.'s office the power to prosecute officials or employees accused of mismanaging or misappropriating government funds.
The Office of Inspector General is the oversight agency for all three branches of the V.I. government and its instrumentalities. Its tasks include conducting audits, monitoring departmental operations and investigating suspected fraud, waste and other abuses.
On Saturday, when asked about his upcoming draft, Hansen elaborated on that proposal, noting that the I.G.'s office operates on a $1 million budget. His legislation, he said, mandates a budget of "1 percent of the annual V.I. budget, which right now would be about $5.8 million."
The fiscal year 2003 budget, which the government is now operating under, indicates a $1.1 million appropriation for the Office of the Inspector General.
Just where the additional funding mandated by Hansen's proposal would come from is unclear at this point.
Hansen contacts I.G.'s office about racing commissions
Recently Hansen wrote Inspector General Steven van Beverhoudt asking him to audit the funds of the horse racing commissions of both districts, "specifically, an audit of the funds paid to the commissions, as well as their expenditures over the life of their last two contracts with their horse racing promoters."
Hansen said that as chairman of the Senate Housing, Parks and Recreation Committee, he has had "a number of complaints and allegations concerning the expenditures of the commissions."
Hansen also asked van Beverhoudt to perform an audit on the Housing, Parks and Recreation Department's "handling of the facilities and the funds generated through any arrangements, leases or agreements with promoters."
The HPR Committee meeting on Thursday evening brought out information substantiating the senator's concerns. The committee found the St. Croix Racing Commissions finances in tatters. When, after hours of testimony, former commission chairman Trevor James and other members were unable to produced the documentation the committee previously requested, Hansen said a follow-up meeting would be needed to try to resolve the financial issues. A date has not yet been set.
Troubles at both districts horse racing commissions surfaced in December. (See "Senate probes horseracing contract".)
Hansen said Saturday that he could request the HPR department to bring the books to the I.G.'s office. "It's just another reason [the office] needs funding," he said. "Unless we clean up the problems, no plan will work. It's like cooking in a dirty pot. We have to clean up the problems that we have first."
Van Beverhoudt responds
When reached for comment Friday, van Beverhoudt said his office would not be able to investigate the St. Croix Racing Commission, given that the I.G. has no St. Croix office and "no funds to conduct those audits." He said, however, he will reply to Hansen's request soon.
While van Beverhoudt agreed with Hansen that the I.G.'s office is in need of increased funding, he did not feel prosecutorial powers are warranted. "We already have two prosecutor's offices; I don't think we need a third agency. We are investigators, not prosecutors. We have to let the agencies in charge do their job."
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