Sen. Alma Francis Heyliger is asking the U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Justice to investigate Gov. Albert Bryan Jr.’s appropriation of $45 million without legislative approval, the senator said Tuesday.
Francis Heyliger is also drafting a resolution condemning Bryan’s actions after the Senate’s legal experts advised that the governor had violated the law.
“The governor went beyond his legal authority,” she said. “The power to control the purse strings lies solely with the Legislature.”
In April, Bryan took $45 million from the General Fund to shore up a deal between the Water and Power Authority and its propane supplier, Vitol. Government House had initially asked the Legislature to approve a $150 million line of credit to help resolve the utility’s long-running dispute with Vitol over infrastructure costs and to temporarily move $45 million from the General Fund. The Legislature removed the $45 million provision from the final bill and reduced the line of credit to $100 million, which was secured last week.
Francis Heyliger bristled at the analogy of a household prioritizing its electric bill over groceries.
“Look at it this way: Your television in your home is broken. You walk into your neighbor’s house and say, ‘Hey, I’m going to borrow your TV.’ You pick it up and go back to your house, use it, and when you purchase one you say, ‘Here, you can have your TV back,’” she said. “Did your neighbor approve you coming into their home? Did your neighbor approve you to take up their television?”
Questions remain as to how the General Fund had an extra $45 million on hand and what projects or payments had to hold for it to be available.
Multiple requests for comment from Government House went unanswered throughout the day Tuesday. Several calls to the Finance Department on St. Croix went unanswered during business hours, with the phone left to ring, and the voice mail systems of the St. Thomas offices did not allow for messages to be left. The department’s website’s contact form also did not work, replying with the message: “Unable to send e-mail. Contact the site administrator if the problem persists.”
Francis Heyliger said getting answers from WAPA was “like pulling teeth.” She said authority officials could not or would not answer all of her questions about the need for extra funding. The Legislature’s Division of Legal Counsel stated WAPA did not have the power to withhold information from the Senate about how public funds were used.
Amos Carty Jr., the Senate’s chief legal counsel, replied to Heyliger’s question about whether Bryan was within his rights to use the $45 million with a succinct “No.” Carty also noted the Senate had no legal ability to seek recourse from Bryan other than to refer the matter to the Department of Justice.
Francis Heyliger said she planned to send her complaint to the Justice Department Tuesday afternoon. She also planned to close a 1972 loophole in the V.I. Code — that is contrary to the Revised Organic Act — that could allow the Senate’s Finance Committee to allocate money without consent from the full legislative body, and tighten language in the V.I. Code regarding official misconduct.
On June 14, the Senate voted unanimously to override a Bryan veto of a bill sending $250,000 to the Virgin Islands Inspector General’s Office for an audit of operations at WAPA.
Sen. Kenneth Gittens said the Inspector General should review WAPA’s contract with Vitol, a meter reading contract, “and the $2 million dollars lost to an offshore account.”
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated Francis Heyliger planned to change the Revised Organic Act. It is actually the V.I. Code.