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Fallout Continues Despite Procurement Bill Withdrawal

Sept. 12, 2004 — Although Gov. Charles Turnbull withdrew his controversial Property and Procurement bill Thursday, senators are still seeking answers to questions raised by the measure.
Sen. Usie Richards, on behalf of the Minority Caucus of which he is leader, requested the Senate Finance Committee Friday to convene a meeting to address issues surrounding the submittal and withdrawal of the bill that would amend the procurement laws of the territory.
In a letter to Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, chairman of the Finance Committee, Richards said, "We sincerely believe that despite the withdrawal of the proposal, the content of the document has again questioned the integrity of the government."
Turnbull's bill called for the commissioner of the Property and Procurement Department — currently Marc Biggs — to be granted authority to "ratify and affirm purchase orders or contracts entered into in violation of Virgin Islands statutory procurement requirements, providing that the commissioner determines that such ratification is in the best interest of the Virgin Islands."
Richards said the Minority Caucus is "specifically interested in determining the total number of contracts and agreements that were illegally executed" since Jan. 1, 2003. The caucus would also like to determine the amount of funds obligated or expected to be obligated because of the illegal acts, he said.
"We believe that this process is necessary to assure that the Legislature does not become co-conspirators or parties to these acts by appropriating funds in the fiscal year 2005 budget to endorse these actions," Richards said.
Richards said Saturday he had not heard from Donastorg as yet on whether he would convene the meeting. But Donastorg told the Source Saturday although the issues are serious enough to warrant a meeting, the meeting should probably be held by another committee.
"I have no problem with calling the meeting," Donastorg said. "But I think Sen. Richards should afford Sen. Malone the privilege of conducting the meeting since the bill would have come to his committee first." Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone chairs the Government Operations Committee.
Richards disagreed.
"We're not discussing the governor's bill that has been withdrawn," Richards said. "We're talking about the issuance of contracts and amounts owed, which falls under the purview of the Finance Committee."
Richards said he would wait for Donastorg to respond to him in writing before commenting further.
Meanwhile, Malone has scheduled a meeting for Sept. 21, to take testimony on the Government Procurement Act of 2003, a bill submitted by Sen. Lorraine Berry last year, which seeks to reform the territorial government's "outdated" procurement system. Malone, Senate President David Jones, Sens. Douglas Canton, Roosevelt David, Louis Hill, Emmett Hansen II, Ronald Russell and Luther Renee are all co-sponsors of the bill.
In a release issued Friday, Malone said he was asked by former Attorney General Iver Stridiron, who was recently forced to resign over the controversy surrounding for his role in drafting the controversial procurement bill, to delay placing Berry's act on the agenda because the Departments of Justice and Property and Procurement were working on developing a new property code.
"In the spirit of cooperation, I granted his request," Malone said. "Now it seems like the reason the draft proposal was held all these months is because they were working on the amendment the governor withdrew and not the procurement code — a legislative issue that has been around for going on four years."
Malone's meeting is scheduled for 10 a.m. Sept 21 at the Earle B. Ottley Legislative Hall on St. Thomas.
"I cannot continue to wait around while there are laws that need to be revamped, which will bring much needed reform to the way business is conducted in this government," Malone said.
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