Oct. 19, 2006 — For the second time in less than a week, Senate President Lorraine L. Berry has denied Sen. Louis P. Hill's request to convene a Committee of the Whole hearing to address issues involving the Public Services Commission and Innovative Communication Corp.'s attempt to use V.I. Telephone Co. (Vitelco) assets in a bankruptcy settlement.
After a Finance Committee hearing held last week, Hill said he would once again be asking Berry to call the committee meeting so PSC members could come before the Legislature and discuss whether or not they supported an agreement that would allow ICC owner Jeffrey Prosser to use Vitelco to a finance a $470 million bankruptcy settlement with three of his creditors (See "Attorney Asks PSC to Subpoena Key Players in ICC Bankruptcy Agreement as Signed Letter Comes to Light").
Hill and other senators have said that the Committee of the Whole would be the "appropriate" forum in which to discuss the issue.
Berry, however, disagrees. In a letter to Hill dated Oct. 19, Berry writes, "if you believe that this matter has reached a state of true urgency and exigency, then the matter could be more expeditiously resolved if it were heard in the committee of jurisdiction, that is, the Committee of Government Operations and Consumer Protection ."
In her letter, Berry goes on to explain that the Government Operations Committee is charged with studying and investigating the operation of government "at all levels." She adds that in the Committee of the Whole, senators would not be given an opportunity to take action on the matter, should "remedial legislation" be necessary.
Once in Committee of the Whole, senators are not able to make motions or vote on any matters brought up for consideration.
"If the above-referenced PSC matter is heard in the Committee of the Whole and the committee decides there is a need for remedial legislation, nothing can be done about it … the matter must be deferred, because no action can be taken," Berry writes.
While deferring the issue to the Government Operations Committee, Berry also states that she would convene a Committee of the Whole hearing if a majority of senators sign a petition requesting that one be called.
Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg has another suggestion, however. In a press release issued Thursday, Donastorg says "it's time" for the Legislature to consider appointing a special prosecutor to "investigate allegations of corruption surrounding the governments relationship with Innovative Communication Corp."
"We need an independent expert to look at the facts, examine the patterns, review the records, read the audit reports," Donastorg said. "This goes way beyond the PSC and all the way to Government House. There has been a cloud of corruption surrounding Innovative Communications and Vitelco for well over a decade now."
Donastorg specifically questions why the company was awarded Economic Development Commission tax benefits when its "profits have tripled" while phone service has "deteriorated." He also alleges that ICC was allowed to place its employees on Vitelco's payroll "so that their salaries were illegally paid out of our phone bills."
"I never wanted to have to say I told you so," Donastorg said. "But now as our phone service deteriorates and every one under the sun is suing Innovative, it has become harder and harder to pretend nothing is wrong with the way this company operates and, of course, the way this government has allowed them to operate."
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