This full-length web feature was originally published in the Jan. 12 edition last week.

As she closed the October 2010 Assizes — a court term that saw the appearance of teenaged bank robbers, youthful burglars and knife-wielding high school students — High Court Justice Rita Joseph-Olivetti lamented that the territory doesn’t do more to keep young men in school and out of trouble.

“I think it’s time the community faces up to the consequences of that,” she said. “If somebody at age 14 or 15 drops out of school, where is he going to go?”

Months earlier, the Virgin Islands Neighbourhood Partnership Project — a taxpayer-funded programme designed to assist at-risk youths by providing grants to churches and similar organisations — was halted after questions arose about its results. House of Assembly members asked what return the territory saw from the $571,800 officials said was spent on the programme in the less than two years of its existence.

Reports obtained by the Beacon suggest that of $348,400 officials said was spent on the programme in 2009, its first year, less than 17 cents of every dollar went to grants to religious institutions.

And, the reports suggest, more than half of the funds spent in 2009 went to overhead expenses, including a $98,400 consultancy fee paid to the programme’s coordinator and other costs such as:

• more than $17,800 in airfare and travel expenses;

• $43,000 in “technical support/programme design” expenses;

• $10,000 for a “cirriculum[sic] support system;” and

• rent and telephone charges totalling more than $7,000.

The four contracts governing the NPP appear to provide no concrete benchmarks by which the programme’s success was to be measured.

Scrutiny

The NPP has drawn considerable scrutiny since it was introduced to the public by then-Education and Culture Minister Andrew Fahie at a February 2009 press conference.

At the time, education officials said government would release as much as $300,000 in funding to a programme designed and coordinated by Pastor Claude Ottley Cline, a Virgin Islander who had recently returned to the territory from Detroit, Michigan.

The programme would reach out to at-risk youths, with help from churches, parents, social workers and government, they said.

Following the money:

NPP’s 1st year

The Neighbourhood Partnership Project cost taxpayers about $571,800 in 2009 and 2010, officials said.

This amount included $196,800 in consultancy fees for programme management and coordination, paid to NPP coordinator Claude Skelton-Cline’s firm Claude Ottley Consulting Ltd.

What became of the remaining $375,000 — $250,000 in allocations for 2009 and $125,000 for 2010 — is generally less clear.

The 2009 spending appears to be detailed in two “expense spreadsheets” that were included in documents the Ministry of Education and Culture provided to the House of Assembly early last year. The spreadsheets appear contradictory in many respects, but the ministry directed the Beacon to the more recent one, which bears a March 2010 date.

This two-page document lists a series of “payees” and one-line “memos” that appear to correspond to dozens of expenditures up to $34,000.

Though the spreadsheet does not explain these expenditures in detail, it is the most comprehensive record the Beacon was able to obtain of how the NPP spent its 2009 allocation of $250,000.

For 2010, the Beacon was able to obtain no such spreadsheet — or any other record detailing more than $6,000 of the $125,000 officials said the NPP received that year.

When this reporter asked the ministry for more information about NPP expenditures, he was referred to Mr. Skelton-Cline. Starting more than six months ago, this reporter called and e-mailed Mr. Skelton-Cline repeatedly in an attempt to set up an interview.

On Dec. 9, Mr. Skelton-Cline answered questions about a handful of listed expenses, some of which he said funded initial “capacity building,” as the programme was “starting from the ground up.” But when asked about other expenses, he ultimately terminated the conversation, explaining that he felt he didn’t “have any need or cause” to be going through line items of a programme “that I presented to the Ministry of Education; that was approved by Cabinet.”

The following expenses are excerpted from the more recent spreadsheet for 2009 expenses, to which the ministry directed this reporter.

 

“M.N.P. TECHNICAL SUPPORT”: $43,000

Memo: “Technical support/programme design”
Date: Jan 5, 2009 – Dec. 5, 2009

Thousands of dollars in payments were made each month in 2009 to “M.N.P. Technical Support” for “technical support/programme design,” totaling $43,000, the spreadsheet suggests.
Neighbourhood Partnership Project coordinator Skelton-Cline said the entry refers to the Michigan Neighbourhood Partnership in Detroit, the city where he was based before returning to the Virgin Islands.
According to its website, the MNP is involved in “after-school collaboration with faith and community-based organisations.” Reverend Dennis Talbert, the MNP president, was present with Messrs. Skelton-Cline and Fahie at a 2009 press conference announcing the VI programme.
In explaining the $43,000 expenditure, Mr. Skelton-Cline said the Detroit programme provided “training” and “capacity building” to “at least 12 volunteers from several churches throughout the territory.”
Asked what he meant by “capacity building,” he said, “There’s a multiplicity of things that falls under capacity building – anything that helps an agency to build capacity so that they can do whatever they’re doing more efficiently, or do what they would like to do or were never able to do. It’s a host of things.”
Asked what capacities in particular were being built at the different organisations, he said, “If I’m going to start a programme, … you’re starting from the ground up, so it’s the whole gamut.”
Mr. Talbert, the MNP president, initially agreed via e-mail to speak to the Beacon, but later declined to comment.
“I just don’t want to do the interview,” he said in a brief phone conversation.

 

“CLAUDE OTTLEY CONSULTING”: $38,000
Memo: “Org/setup & operation,” etc.
Dates: Apr. 21, 2009 – Nov. 13, 2009

The spreadsheet suggests that $38,000 in payments were made to Mr. Skelton-Cline’s company Claude Ottley Consulting Ltd., but it does not explain whether the payments were above and beyond the $196,800 in consultancy fees paid over the course of the programme.
All told, the spreadsheet lists seven payments to the company. Six are labelled “org/setup & operation.” The last, for $2,000 on Nov. 13, 2009, is labeled, “Org/Setup & Operation/Final Cost.”
Asked in the May interview whether payments to Claude Ottley Consulting were made from programme funds, beyond what was in the two $98,400 consultancy agreements, Mr. Fahie referred the Beacon to the documents distributed in the House of Assembly.
“I would say when you get the report, you look through and see that; I don’t recall,” he said, adding, “I cannot recall it, but it’s in black and white: nothing to hide.”
When this reporter asked Mr. Skelton-Cline whether the $38,000 represented payments to Claude Ottley Consulting on top of the consultancy fees, he said. “The answer to that question is no,” before declining to comment further on specific items in the spreadsheet.

 

“MICRO TECH”: $34,000
Memo: “Computer supplies/
17 work sites/allocated”
Date: Dec. 31, 2009

Mr. Skelton-Cline said Dec. 9 he didn’t recall who “Micro Tech” was, or where it is based.
“Whatever it was, it sounds like whatever laptops were given to students,” he said. “I’m not sure; I don’t recall the specifics.”
He said he thought the “17 work sites” referred to the churches and other organisations involved in the programme, and that his organisation would have ordered the laptops and provided them for distribution to needy students through those organisations.
Asked who would have chosen Micro Tech as the vendor, he said: “Somehow it would have come through me —  I don’t recall who; there was just some — whoever had the better price, I would think. I don’t remember specifics.”

 

“GODFOLKS MEDIA GROUP” AND “JOHN BANKS”: $18,824.90
Memo: Various
Dates: Jan. 15, 2009 – Dec. 29, 2009

John Banks, who said in an interview that he played a role in “managing operations” for the NPP, saw a total $18,738.90 paid to his firm, Godfolks Media Group, the spreadsheet suggests. Most “memo” fields in payments to Godfolks say “field coordinator,” followed by a given month.
Mr. Banks said he worked with schools to learn the names of students who might benefit from the programme, then matched them to houses of worship.
An $86 payment to Mr. Banks for “printing” is also listed for Feb. 24, 2009.

 

“FAITH BASED COMM. ORG.”: $29,800
Memo: “Allocation”
Date: Dec. 31, 2009

The spreadsheet provides no further details about this listing, and the Beacon was unable to obtain further information about the expenditure.

 

RELIGIOUS INSTITUTIONS: $27,200
Memo: “Grants”
Dates: Aug. 14, 2009 – Nov. 26, 2009

The March spreadsheet appears to list $27,200 in grants to 11 religious institutions and one related organisation. The Beacon spoke with leaders at most of the institutions, all of whom confirmed that they had received NPP funds. Though some leaders weren’t certain about the exact amount received, others said the amounts listed on the 2009 spreadsheet were accurate.
• Spreadsheet entries indicate $2,000 grants were given in 2009 to nine recipients: the Apostolic Faith Church, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the Church of God of Holiness, the Sanctuary of Hope New Testament Church of God, the Road Town Methodist Church, the Deeper Life Ministry, the BVI Islamic Centre, the Cane Garden Bay Baptist Church and the New Testament Church of God International Worship Centre.
• Two other grants totaling $2,200 are listed for L.E.S.C.A., a business owned by Pastor Sonia Brooks, head of Shammah Ministries in Baughers Bay. Ms. Brooks said she used the company name to receive the funds while getting her church established.
•A payee listed as “Shaman Ministries” received $2,000 for a “summer program,” the spreadsheet suggests.
• Two payments, for $2,000 and $3,000, and each described as “V.I.N.P. Replacement,” are listed for the New Life Baptist Church on July 29, 2009. Bishop John Cline, a relative of Mr. Skelton-Cline who heads that Duffs Bottom church, confirmed that the church initially received $5,000.

 

“PENOBSCOT TRAVEL”: $17,814.60
Memo: “Airfare/travel,” etc.
Dates: Jan. 18, 2009 – Dec. 5, 2009

Payee Penobscot Travel is listed as receiving regular payments, most with memo fields reading “airfare/travel.” In total, the company received $17,814.60, in payments ranging from $953.62 to $1,860.80, according to the spreadsheet.
Two entries, on Oct. 2, 2009 and Oct. 23, 2009, say “airfare/trainer.” Other apparent trainer-related expenses are also listed on the earlier date.
No further information on the travel is included, but the two major contracts between government and Claude Ottley Consulting Ltd. both provide that “visits to other educational systems overseas will be undertaken when necessary.”

 

“MIFFLIN COMPUTER SUPPORT”: $10,000
Memo: “Cirriculum [sic] support system”
Date: Dec. 5, 2009

This expense is not described further, but documents included in the NPP information obtained by the Beacon might offer clues.
A July 1, 2009 letter from the Ministry of Education and Culture to the accountant general, attached to the copy of the 2009 major contract for the programme obtained by the Beacon, says, “The materials and the curriculum to be used [for the NPP] has been ordered from Great Source — Houghton Mifflin Company.”
A May 19, 2009 invoice labeled sent from Claude Ottley Consulting to the ministry, which was also attached to the copy of the contract, lists a $10,000 charge for “curriculum.”
But it’s unclear how many churches received curricular materials.
“Initially we were supposed to be given a curriculum guide from the ministry or from the director of the programme,” said Michelle Street, a teacher at Sanctuary of Hope New Testament Church of God on Virgin Gorda. “We haven’t been given that curriculum guide.”
Mr. Banks, of Godfolks Media, said there were challenges getting the material into the territory.
“I really didn’t get a full understanding of what the delays were,” he said.
Kareem-Nelson Hull, then a ministry information officer, referred questions on the expenditure to Mr. Skelton-Cline when he was asked for information about what became of the $10,000 listed on the spreadsheet.
When Mr. Skelton-Cline was asked about the charge, he said, “It would have been whatever material that was needed; I don’t know the specifics.”

 

HOTELS AND CONFERENCE ROOM: $4,384.28
Memo: Various
Dates: Feb. 13, 2009 – Dec. 11, 2009

M.V.W. International Co., which is listed as receiving a total of $2,618.93, operates a number of hospitality businesses, including The Mariner Inn Hotel and Restaurant at The Moorings. Three listings for “conf. room rental” make up the apparent expenses.
A Dec. 11, 2009, entry lists $718 paid to Treasure Isle Hotel for “luncheon/summer program awards.”
A Feb. 13, 2009 entry lists $673 paid to Maria’s by the Sea for “room/trainer/Dennis Talbot,” and an Oct. 2, 2009 entry lists $374.35 paid to the Road Town hotel for “hotel/trainer.”

 

“CABLE & WIRELESS”: $3,822.71
Memo: “Telephone”
Dates: Jan. 25, 2009 – Dec. 24, 2009
Monthly telephone charges averaging about $318 are listed in the spreadsheet.

 

“SKELTON DEVELOPMENT LIMITED”: $3,500
Memo: “Rent”
Dates: Jan. 5, 2009 – Dec. 5, 2009
A $300 rent entry is listed for each month of 2009, except April, when a $200 rent charge is listed.

 

STUDENT WORKERS: $2,829
Memo: “College student worker/summer programme”
Dates: Aug. 14, 2009 – Oct. 2, 2009
College students were hired to assist in programmes offered at churches during the summer months. “I think the summer programme was, I know, very successful, because some of the college students who are education majors at college worked on the summer programme,” said Bishop John Cline, of the New Life Baptist Church.

 

TAXES AND CORPORATE FEES: $2,288.50
Memo: Various
Dates: May 6, 2009 – Dec. 14, 2009

Social Security payments totaling $688.50 and payments to the accountant general, totaling $1,100, are listed on the spreadsheet.
Three payments to the accountant general in the last three months of 2009 are labeled as being for “payroll tax;” a fourth, shown as made in May 2009, is labeled “P.A.Y.E./Late Filing/6 Months.” P.A.Y.E. is a common acronym for “pay-as-you-earn” tax, meaning tax withheld from employees’ pay throughout the year.
A $500 payment to Caribbean Corporate Services is also listed on Oct. 22, 2009, with the description “company license fee/Claude Ottley Cons.”
The agreement engaging Claude Ottley Consulting’s services for one year from Nov. 10, 2008 lists, as one of the “terms of service,” that “taxes and other government fees as well as personal insurance or other personal fees, is the responsibility of the consultant.” None of the other agreements between government and the consulting firm, including the contract that governs the $250,000 budgeted for the programme in 2009, appears to have any language to that effect.

 

“SYNERGY:” $1,500
Memo: “Conference”
Date: Sept. 10, 2009
The spreadsheet provides no further details about this listing, and the Beacon was unable to obtain further information.

 

“DONNA CLYNE-THOMAS”: $1,400
Memo: “Summer Program” and “Field Coordination/Oct. ‘09”
Dates:  Sept. 19, 2009 and Oct. 20, 2009

Donna Clyne-Thomas, the assistant principal for pastoral affairs at Elmore Stoutt High School, who said she was involved in NPP-affiliated programmes at the New Life Baptist Church, received $1,400 in 2009, the spreadsheet suggests.

 

VEHICLE RENTAL: $1,248
Memo: Various
Dates: Feb. 13, 2009 –
Sept. 29, 2009

Three entries, on Aug. 14, 2009, Sept. 2, 2009 and Sept. 29, 2009, each list $240 paid to Enterprize Car Rental for “Jeep rental/4 days.”
A Feb. 13, 2009 payment is listed showing $213 paid for “5 days jeep rental,” and a March 14, 2009 payment shows $315 for “7 days jeep rental.”

 

OTHER EXPENSES: $2,045
Memo: Various
Dates: Sept. 2, 2009 – Dec. 1, 2009

A Dec. 9, 2009 entry lists $500 paid to Scott Engleman, with memo “consultant.” Three $500 payments to Stacey Williams — on Dec. 1, 2009, Nov. 3, 2009 and Oct. 2, 2009 — are listed, with memo fields reading “Admin. Contract.”
Two entries with memo “bank charge” — one for payee New Life Baptist Church with amount $20 and one for payee Faith Apostolic Church with amount $25 — are listed for Sept. 2, 2009.

 

“DENNIS TALBOT”: $750
Memo: “Trainer”
Date: Oct. 2, 2009

This entry appears to be a reference to Reverend Dennis Talbert, the president of the Michigan Neighbourhood Partnership, who was present at the NPP?launch.

 

TOTAL: $242,406.99
The spreadsheet includes a “total” of $242,406.99 in expenses. That figure is then evidently subtracted from $250,000, the amount budgeted for NPP expenses in 2009, to generate a field with amount $7,593.01, labeled “Balance B/Forward For Grant.

Messrs. Fahie and Cline then met with religious leaders on Tortola and Virgin Gorda, encouraging them to apply for a $5,000 grant to support after-school youth programmes.

Mr. Fahie explained that Mr. Cline’s role would be minimal in the individual planning by the participating churches. Thus, he said, the programme would “move without the government bureaucracy that gets in the way.”

But Mr. Cline — who has since legally changed his surname to Skelton-Cline and has now been contracted by the new government to assist the Ministry of Communications and Works with developing the territory’s ports  — would be responsible for accounting for the funds spent, Mr. Fahie said.

In the succeeding months, the NPP funded youth tutoring, counselling, after-school programmes and summer activities in several of the territory’s houses of worship.

Questions

But the programme also drew repeated questions regarding its spending and accountability.

In a May 2009 House of Assembly meeting, then-Opposition Leader Dr. Orlando Smith asked Mr. Fahie about the programme’s costs and “specific goals.” Mr. Fahie replied that the programme would cost $250,000 per year, “less management fees,” and he reiterated some of the goals stated at the launch.

In late 2010, more questions arose in the HOA, this time coming largely from members of Mr. Fahie’s own Virgin Islands Party government.

During Standing Finance Committee deliberations held in November and December 2010, several legislators — including Alvin Christopher, who Mr. Skelton-Cline, running on the National Democratic Party ticket, unsuccessfully challenged for the Second District seat in the November elections — asked for a report on the NPP’s activities and spending.

Later, then-Communications and Works Minister Julian Fraser publicly criticised the programme.

“We’ve asked for reports on the programme to see what has been developed, which we haven’t received. I haven’t personally seen any tangible results — beneficial results, that is — coming out of these programmes,” Mr. Fraser said during a December 2010 HOA meeting.

The Ministry of Education and Culture subsequently provided HOA members with a packet of information about the NPP, a copy of which has since been obtained by this newspaper.

The documents include contracts and reports about activities in various churches. They also include basic, though often vague and seemingly contradictory, information about how the programme spent its $250,000 allocation for 2009.

For 2010, by contrast, the documents obtained by the Beacon accounted for less than $6,000 of the $125,000 allocation officials said the NPP received before it was halted mid-year.

Those two annual allocations are separate from two payments of $98,400 made to Mr. Skelton-Cline’s firm for coordinating and managing the project and other related responsibilities.

When this reporter tried to obtain more information from the ministry regarding the NPP’s expenditures, he was referred to Mr. Skelton-Cline, who initially declined to comment but ultimately granted an interview on Dec. 9. During that interview, the consultant provided information about a few particular expenses, some of which he said were for initial “capacity building,” as the programme was “starting from the ground up.”

But he declined to explain the remaining expenses before terminating the interview, saying he was “not interested in explaining any line items.” He referred further questions back to the ministry.

Mr. Skelton-Cline, who publicly defended the programme during his election campaign, said again in the December interview that he saw the NPP as successful.

“My statement on this programme, as I shared with you before, is that we had a scope of services with the former government; we fulfilled whatever was required and went beyond the call in some of our summer programmes. And that’s about the extent of my position on the partnership,” Mr. Skelton-Cline said. “I really do not have any other comments, nor do I really have any motivation for going through with this.”

Gov’t audit

Although the report provided to HOA members early last year was not released to the public, Mr. Fahie, too, continued to defend the youth programme during his time as minister, occasionally disclosing various details about its cost.

Including what was paid to Mr. Skelton-Cline’s firm, Claude Ottley Consulting, a total of $571,800 in public funds was spent on the NPP before it was “halted mid-way 2010,” Mr. Fahie told the HOA last April. In an interview the following month, Mr. Fahie told the Beacon that the stoppage had come after “some elected officials” raised concerns about the programme.

Since then, the Auditor General’s Office has audited the programme. The Cabinet mandated the audit when approving the programme, according to a record of Cabinet proceedings included in the NPP reports obtained by the Beacon.

Auditor General Sonia Webster said Friday that her office had delivered the audit report to the Ministry of Education and Culture last month and is currently awaiting a response for inclusion in a final report to be sent to Cabinet. Attempts to reach MEC officials willing to comment on the audit in recent days were unsuccessful. Education and Culture Minister Myron Walwyn responded to a Friday Facebook message to say he was off island and unavailable this week.

In his HOA statement last April, Mr. Fahie also outlined the history of the NPP, providing more details than had previously been disclosed to the public and calling for the programme to resume.

At a 2008 caucus meeting — one of the regular meetings of representatives from the then-ruling Virgin Islands Party — Mr. Skelton-Cline presented the initial idea for the programme, Mr. Fahie told the HOA.

“This programme was explained to be an after-school programme that would be engineered by the churches,” Mr. Fahie said. “In each church site, it was designed to engage the church, seeing that every week the churches have a captive audience.”

In the interview last May, Mr. Fahie told the Beacon he did not invite Mr. Skelton-Cline to address the caucus meeting and was unsure which member did so. In any event, the caucus asked Mr. Fahie and his ministry to work out the details so that the programme could be implemented, he told the HOA.

The MEC then “proceeded to do their due diligence” on Mr. Skelton-Cline and the proposed programme, Mr. Fahie told the HOA. In the May interview, he elaborated further, saying that the ministry used a “regular” due-diligence process often employed by government, but he did not personally review the results.

“It was done by the technocrats in the ministry,” he said, adding that he could not point to anyone who could discuss that particular due diligence analysis in greater detail, since the people who worked on it were no longer at his ministry.

“I don’t know who to tell you to turn to, because they’re not here now: The process is regular,” he said.

The “technocrats” also determined the $8,200 per month, or $98,400 per year, to be paid in consulting fees to Claude Ottley Consulting, Mr. Fahie said.

“The figure, as far as I recall, was a negotiated figure, where the due diligence, financially, was done on that also,” he said.

Announcement

In mid-2009, after the due diligence was complete and the programme was publicly launched, Cabinet “retroactively approved” the NPP’s establishment, “and approved that Claude O. Cline be the coordinator, and the programme funds be disbursed through the company Claude Ottley Consulting Ltd.,” Mr. Fahie told the HOA.

Cabinet also approved an August 2009 contract, allowing for $250,000 to be disbursed to the company “for distribution to the different youth centres involved in the programme, as well as payment to other facilitators,” he said. The contract, signed by Mr. Skelton-Cline and then-Premier Ralph O’Neal, funded the programme for the year 2009.

The two later signed a second agreement, in March 2010, allowing for the disbursement of another $250,000, although only half of that was actually paid out before the programme was halted midway through that year, Mr. Fahie said.

Separately, two petty contracts between the company and the ministry engaged Mr. Skelton-Cline as the “project director,” Mr. Fahie said. Each called for government to pay $98,400 to Claude Ottley Consulting Ltd. for managing the programme during a roughly one-year period. Both those contracts were paid in full, Mr. Fahie told the HOA last April.

“It is safe to conclude that although more measures for more timely reporting will have to be implemented in the future, the consultant has provided quality service and the funds allocated to the programme has hit its target,” Mr. Fahie said at the time.

He later added, “Mr. Speaker, it is my hope that once all the concerns that members have about this programme are rectified, then the programme can resume.”

Dr. Smith, who is now the premier, declined to comment for this article, and attempts to reach Messrs. Christopher and Fraser, who had been strongly critical of the programme, for comment were unsuccessful.

Expenditure questions

In the interview last May, Mr. Fahie said he had “no problem with people asking for accountability” with regard to the use of public funds.

“It is government’s funds, so you cannot be private in the public, and you cannot be private with government funds,” he said.

However, Mr. Fahie was reluctant to speak in detail about the NPP’s expenditures, saying he didn’t recall all of the programme’s financial details.

Instead, he referred this reporter to the NPP financial reports and other related documents distributed to HOA members, which had not yet been obtained by the Beacon.

“There were some documents submitted to the House that I would have to locate so you can get them,” he said. Those reports explain “how each dime was spent,” he said.

“The consultant detailed how he spent each penny of the government’s money, so the ministry can only go by the information provided by the consultant and make sure that whatever checks and balances needed to be done are done or were done, so that’s the most the ministry could do,” Mr. Fahie said.

Asked specific questions about the programme’s finances, Mr. Fahie indicated that the answer lay in those documents.

“I would say, when you get the report, you look through and see that; I don’t recall,” he said. “When you get the breakdown, you have to check that for yourself.”

But the Beacon never received any paperwork from the Ministry of Education and Culture, despite more than a dozen follow-up calls and several e-mails to Mr. Fahie; to Vicki Samuel-Lettsome, an information officer who was present during the interview; and to Mr. Fahie’s then-private secretary, Tracia Smith.

Ultimately, the Beacon obtained, through another source, a copy of a set of documents the ministry sent HOA members in early 2011.

Included in that packet, along with the NPP contracts and other documents, were two “expense spreadsheets” with apparently contradictory information about how the NPP spent a $250,000 allocation in 2009.

One spreadsheet was apparently sent to the ministry by Claude Ottley Consulting and stamped “received Feb. 02, 2010.” The other was included in a programme report, which, according to its header, covered the period from Oct. 6, 2009 through March 31, 2010.

Both documents appear to list expenses from throughout 2009, but the second spreadsheet contradicts the first in many respects: It lists different expenses and appears to indicate that a larger fraction of the $250,000 allocation for 2009 was spent. It also shows smaller grants being given to some of the participating churches and more spent on overhead costs like travel expenses, rent and “technical support/programme design.”

Spreadsheet discrepancies

Each “expense spreadsheet” appears to be a list of expenditures by date, listing the “payee” and “amount” for each expense, along with a “memo” field providing a brief description, such as “room for training” or “telephone/Dec. 2009.”

The Beacon contacted MEC acting Deputy Secretary Tasha Bertie to ask about the discrepancies between the two spreadsheets.

“I am not certain,” Ms. Bertie said, adding, “The only thing I could say is if you could look at the dates, if there’s actually dates on the report — the financial statement, that is — maybe that would better help. … The consultant himself might be the best person to tell you about it.”

But when first contacted by the Beacon, the consultant — Mr. Skelton-Cline — said, “I’m just going to go with the minister’s statement” and declined to be interviewed.

The Beacon later contacted Kareem-Nelson Hull, then an MEC information officer, to inquire about the discrepancy between the two expense spreadsheets for 2009.

“We would like you to refer to the document dated in March; that’s the more recent one,” Mr. Hull said, after consulting with Ms. Bertie.

Later, when Mr. Skelton-Cline was contacted with specific questions about the expense spreadsheets, he initially declined to comment again, before agreeing to the December phone interview, which he terminated before addressing many of the Beacon’s questions.

“I, as a private company, really have shared with you in many more details than I really needed to,” he said, before ending the interview.

‘It was a success’

Despite the controversy surrounding the NPP, Mr. Fahie said last May that the programme was successful. However, he declined to disclose data that he said supported his claim, citing privacy concerns.

“There were quite a bit of young men who were not on the road towards graduating from high school, that they were able to settle down and have a paradigm shift in their thinking, and they were able to graduate,” he said.

No programme could ever have a 100 percent success rate, he said, but through the NPP, “over 90 percent of the persons involved were able to make improvements in their lives.”

The minister said he was unable to release corroborating data without jeopardising student confidentiality. He added that detailed pre-NPP and post-NPP student grade averages had not been computed.

“The full-blown statistic you’re talking about wasn’t done up — wasn’t done up in a full-blown manner that you’re speaking about,” he said. “But the individual students, when you look over the individual students’ progress, and you tally it, that is where you know it from.”

That tallying was done at the MEC based on data received from the programme coordinator, but providing even aggregate data would be difficult, given the way in which the statistics were recorded, he said.

“It would be difficult to do it without the schools’ and students’ information, how the data is,” he explained. “How the programme coordinator kept the data, it’s gonna be difficult to give you that without disclosing something that will give away who the students are.”

Mixed reviews

Others involved with the NPP gave it mixed reviews. When the Beacon contacted several religious leaders and others listed as “payees” on the most recent expense spreadsheet, many praised the programme.

John Banks, of Godfolks Media Group, which is listed on the spreadsheet as receiving a total of $18,738.90 in 2009, said he had a role in “managing operations” for the NPP.

“I was the person who was coordinating the resources — the churches that volunteered, the training of the volunteers, the allocation of students to the volunteer churches — and following up on them to understand what they were actually doing; preparing reports to go to the ministry; things of that sort,” Mr. Banks said.

He explained that religious leaders attended an information session “called by Minister Fahie and Pastor Cline;” then, if the leaders were interested in participating, they attended training sessions.

“There was no application,” he said. “If they felt their church could support a programme like that, then they came to attend the training, along with their volunteers.”

The churches then offered tutoring and extracurricular programmes, he said.

“The churches provided support in two primary areas: academic support — things like English, math, reading skills,” he said. “The second layer of the programme was providing extracurricular materials. That would vary from one centre to another.”

For example, one church offered dance lessons, and another gave training in auto mechanics, he said.

Schools around the territory recommended students for the programme, according to Mr. Banks.

“Their recommendations were primarily based on poor academic performance and poor behaviour,” he said.

Assemblies were held at schools to let students know about the programme, and participants were free to select a house of worship to attend, he said. Otherwise, he would work to match students to a particular church.

“To whatever extent we could, we tried to allocate students in areas of interest,” Mr. Banks said, referring to the extracurricular activities at the various houses of worship, “but primarily they were allocated by geography, based on where they lived or if they were already members of a particular church site, so that when they finished, it would not be hard for their parents to pick them up or for them to be delivered home.”

’09 grants

Each religious institution that successfully participated received an “undesignated block grant” from the programme, Mr. Banks said.

“The churches were at liberty to determine what was the best use of the funds,” he said.

Churches generally used the grants for stipends for volunteers, purchasing educational material and equipment and paying for transportation, he said.

The most recent expense spreadsheet appears to indicate that 11 religious institutions and one related business received a collective $27,200 in grants in 2009.

Several church leaders told the Beacon the programme helped them reach out to young people in need of academic and behavioural assistance, though others lamented a lack of organisation and the absence of standardised curricular materials.

The Apostolic Faith Church in Road Town used a $2,000 grant to support two semesters’ worth of tutoring, provided by schoolteachers who attend the church and a college student hired through the programme, said the church’s pastor, Michael Anthony.

“We bought supplies, provided classroom space, after-school snacks and instruction,” he said. Students from Elmore Stoutt High School, who were recommended for the programme by education officials, would come to the church after school and be taken home by bus, he said.

“From our perspective, it was a successful venture,” Mr. Anthony said, “in that the children were able to receive the personal help they needed, and that they were each able to be promoted at the end of the term.”

After doing well in school the first semester, not as many students were interested in continuing the programme for a second term, but the students he’s still in contact with generally continued to do well, he said.

“A couple of them are holding jobs, and we have very good relationships,” he said. “In my opinion, the programme as we ran it was a success for my church.”

Pastor Robert Wiggan of Deeper Life Church in Sea Cows Bay said his church, which is listed on the spreadsheet as receiving $2,000 in 2009, “joined forces with the New Life Baptist Church” in nearby Duffs Bottom, where classes were held.

“We actually had several classes with automotive technology, just to give them a feel for the vehicle and so on,” Mr. Wiggan said. Students received academic and other support, too, said Donna Clyne-Thomas, who taught English at New Life and is also the assistant principal for pastoral affairs at Elmore Stoutt High School.

“We had our math, we had our English, we had our life skills,” she said, explaining that students received training in skills like anger management and conflict resolution. Students could also pick up some cooking skills, making dishes like fried chicken or meatballs, she said.

“We were supposed to make it positive: It was supposed to be a breath of fresh air for these students,” she said. “These children had something to do when mommy or daddy or guardian were still out working.”

Bishop John Cline, the pastor of New Life Baptist Church, said he thought the programme, as implemented at his church, was a success.

“I think our programme went very well, and was able to cater to the needs of some of the at-risk youth that were sent,” said Mr. Cline, who is a relative of Mr. Skelton-Cline. “Many of them weren’t from our church; they were just children from the high school that needed help in tutoring from other subjects.”

The spreadsheet lists New Life as receiving $5,000 in 2009.

Difficulties

Other churches reported challenges, particularly in attracting and retaining students.

“The programme we had only went for about three weeks,” said Melvin M. Turnbull, who was one of the programme facilitators at Cane Garden Bay Baptist Church, which is listed as receiving $2,000 in 2009. “We only had a few kids that came up.”

Mr. Turnbull said the church, which planned to offer tutoring in English, math and science, started with 10 NPP students but ended with two.

“From our end, I would say it wasn’t a success, because the kids were not coming out,” he said. “The partnership was calling the parents and speaking with them to get the kids out, but it was unsuccessful.”

Pastor Commet Chalwell, of the Church of God of Prophecy in Long Look, said the programme “never got off the ground” at his church.

“We were given some names to contact in our area,” he said, adding that the church was unable to reach any of the students, so did not proceed far enough with the programme to receive grant money.

“It seemed like it was somewhat random,” he said, adding that he had trouble getting Mr. Skelton-Cline to follow up.

“At the beginning, we were all excited for it, but it just didn’t happen to us,” he said. A similar programme was already taking place at the East End/Long Look Community Centre, Mr. Chalwell said, so that may have already attracted students interested in such activities.

In Baughers Bay, the New Testament Church of God International Worship Centre offered a programme during summer vacation in 2009, said Dorothea Atterbury, who was involved in the programme. Six students attended, but some were initially reluctant, she said.

“At first they didn’t want to come, because they thought it was a church-based thing,” she said. High school students received help in math and English and could also participate in sewing and cooking, she said.

“I think it made a difference with them, but I didn’t get a chance to follow up,” she said.

The church did receive some grant money to help with the programme, but she didn’t recall the exact figure, Ms. Atterbury said. The expense spreadsheet lists $2,000 for “New Testament Church.”

VG church

On Virgin Gorda, the Sanctuary of Hope New Testament Church of God offered educational programmes before the NPP was established, said Pastor Paul Ricketts. Organisers had been charging participants about $40 per subject, but, thanks to the grant money, they could offer free help to students recommended through the NPP.

“Those students would come here for free,” he said. “We would look at their books, try to confirm where they are and where they are struggling.”

The grant money — about $6,000 over two years — helped to pay teachers and to keep the lights on and the water running, Mr. Ricketts said. The spreadsheet indicates that the church received $2,000 in 2009.

Michelle Street, a teacher at the church, said the church was told it would be given a “curriculum guide,” which never happened, and communication was “a little bit poor.” Still, she said, she thought the programme did well overall.

“I think it’s a good programme: Parents are interested; the students who are coming are interested,” Ms. Street said. “We need the funding to keep it going.”

Asked in May whether he would work with Mr. Skelton-Cline again, Mr. Fahie said, “I will work with anyone who has an open mind, a willing heart; that wants the best for this territory; that wants to ensure that they do their best to help the future of this territory’s youth to fulfil their God-given purpose for existing. So, that’s who I work with.”

Mr. Skelton-Cline, speaking in March 2011 at the launch of his candidacy for Second District representative, said he was “unapologetic and unashamed of the contract” he had with the government.

“I delivered the services,” he said, “and I got my paycheque.”

And, speaking to the Beacon in December, he expressed a similar sentiment.

“The government has found it to be helpful and useful, and [I] think that the programme is helpful and continues to be needed in the territory, and that’s really the extent of my comments on the partnership,” he said.


 

The programme report

In early 2011, the Ministry of Education and Culture provided the House of Assembly with a packet of information about the Neighbourhood Partnership Project. A copy obtained by the Beacon includes the following documents:

• A letter from the Ministry of Education and Culture to the House of Assembly, asking that the packet be distributed to the members and speaker of the HOA.

• A record of Cabinet’s approval of the programme.

• Copies of four agreements between government and Claude Ottley Consulting Ltd., the firm of programme coordinator Claude Ottley Skelton-Cline.

• A standalone expense spreadsheet for 2009, labelled as having been sent from Claude Ottley Consulting Ltd. to the Ministry of Education and Culture, where it was apparently stamped, “Received Feb. 02, 2010.”

• A “general report” for the period Oct. 6, 2009 through March 31, 2010, which includes a second “expense spreadsheet” for 2009. This spreadsheet appears to contradict the first in some respects.

• An Oct. 9, 2009 “program update” to Mr. Skelton-Cline from John Banks, who has said he had a role in “managing operations” for the programme.

• A July 29, 2010 letter sent from Donna Clyne-Thomas to Mr. Skelton-Cline reporting on a 2010 summer programme. Ms. Clyne-Thomas, the acting principal for pastoral affairs at Elmore Stoutt High School, said she also participated in the programme at New Life Baptist Church in Duffs Bottom. In the letter, she gives her title as “VINP Field Coordinator (volunteer).”

• An Oct. 26, 2010  “program update” sent from Mr. Skelton-Cline to Carolyn O’Neal-Williams, then permanent secretary at the Ministry of Education and Culture.

• A collection of records relating to a 2010 summer programme, including form letters from Mr. Skelton-Cline to workers in the programme; agreements signed by programme workers; and records of payments to the workers and to a transportation company that apparently provided safari bus services.



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