BVI Electricity Corporation General Manager Dr. Neil Smith, left, and Chairman Sheldon Scatliffe sign a contract with SOL St. Lucia Limited during an April 18 ceremony. The BVI Beacon and most other media houses were not invited to the event. (Screenshot: JTV)

Despite weeks of requests from the Beacon, the BVI Electricity Corporation has withheld basic details of a major fuel deal signed recently with SOL St. Lucia Limited.

The utility, which is publicly owned, also declined to provide the contract itself.

“The reason is merely commercial,” BVIEC General Manager Dr. Neil Smith told the Beacon, which, like most other media outlets in the territory, was not invited to the contract-signing ceremony on April 18.

During parts of the ceremony broadcast by JTV — the only media outlet that did attend — BVIEC officials said they chose SOL to supply fuel for three years to power the Pockwood Pond power station.

Though Dr. Smith estimated the annual cost of that fuel at around $50 million, he said he would not provide details of the financial agreement.

“I don’t necessarily want to go into what the quantum of the contract is,” he said at the ceremony, adding, “We spend about $50 million, plus or minus a few million, every year on fuel.”

Unanswered questions

Dr. Smith later told the Beacon that the start date for the three-year deal will be Sept. 1, but he left other questions unanswered. As a result, various aspects of the contract and the tender process that preceded it have not been explained:

• the cost of the deal and the details of its terms;
• an unusually long delay between the tender opening on May 19, 2023, and the contract signing on April 18 of this year;
• a discrepancy between the period SOL initially bid to supply fuel (2023-2026) and the period it was ultimately hired to supply fuel (2024-2027);
• what company has been supplying the Pockwood Pond power station with fuel since last August; and
• which companies won a series of smaller contracts included in the 2023 tender opening.

Tender opening

The BVIEC’s process of choosing SOL for the three-year fuel deal appears to stretch back at least to early 2023.

At the time, SOL was already providing fuel for the Pockwood Pond power station: In November 2022, it had publicly signed a short-term supply contract after the BVIEC’s previous deal with Delta Petroleum BVI fell apart amid a dispute.

But SOL’s short-term contract was due to expire at the end of August 2023, and the BVIEC was seeking its next long-term supplier through a tender process.

During a virtual ceremony on May 19, 2023, BVIEC officials opened and read out two bids for a contract to provide fuel to the Pockwood Pond power station for three years.

Delta Petroleum bid $135,021,600 for the job, and SOL quoted $132,195,000, according to figures read out at the ceremony.

Bids were also opened for a series of much smaller contracts: for fuel for the Anegada power station; for lubrication oil; and for waste oil removal.

Not invited after delay

After the bid-opening ceremony, the Beacon received no further information on the tender process until April 10 of this year, when the BVIEC sent Beacon Editor Freeman Rogers an email that appeared to be intended for JTV.

“Dear Mr. Freeman,” the email began, “We would like to extend an invitation to JTV to attend the signing of the fuel contract to be executed between the BVI Electricity Corporation and SOL St. Lucia Ltd BVI at BVIEC’s conference room in Long Bush at [4 p.m.] on [April 17].”

Though JTV is not affiliated with the Beacon, Mr. Rogers accepted the invitation. The day of the scheduled signing, however, the BVIEC emailed that it had to “cancel the invitation” due to “unforeseen circumstances” beyond its control.

The next day, on April 18, JTV posted a video of a contract-signing ceremony held earlier the same day.

After Mr. Rogers requested more information about the event, Dr. Smith explained in an email that the April 17 ceremony had been postponed “due to delays in the travel plans of individuals who needed to be present at the signing.”

It was subsequently rescheduled for the next day, he added, but “board meetings and other commitments” meant that “exact times could not be determined in advance and occurred when things came together at a moment’s notice.”

He added, “JTV was contacted at the last minute and came to give coverage, as was another agency that was unable to treat with the last-minute notice.”

The signing ceremony

JTV aired almost 10 minutes of the contract-signing ceremony, during which BVIEC and SOL officials lauded the deal but provided few details about its terms. They did say, though, that SOL had agreed not to raise its prices for the first year of the agreement despite expected fluctuations in the cost of fuel. Dr. Smith also defended the tender process during the ceremony.

“Obviously, the two major suppliers in the BVI were there: SOL and Delta,” he said. “They were the big boys, so to speak. The evaluation process is what it is, and I am satisfied it was a fair and very transparent process.”

But officials didn’t disclose the cost of the SOL contract or explain its conditions in detail.

Beacon questions

In response to questions from the Beacon about the SOL deal and the other smaller bids opened in May 2023, Dr. Smith provided a list of the 2023 bids. The list, however, didn’t identify the bidders or the winners.

He also provided general details about the tender process that led to SOL’s contract, noting that a team of invited evaluators used a weighting and scoring system to assess the bids.

“The combined scores from each evaluator were then calculated to determine which supplier(s) scored the most favourable and should be awarded the contract for the service to which they tendered,” Dr. Smith wrote in a message that did not name the evaluators. “The recommendation was then presented to BVIEC’s board of directors for their approval.”

Neither Dr. Smith nor BVIEC Chairman Sheldon Scatliffe, however, answered questions about the timing of the bidding process or the cost and other conditions attached to the SOL deal.

They also did not say which company won the smaller contracts.

SOL, Delta and LVP — which bid for one of the smaller contracts — were contacted for comment but did not respond by press time.

Freeman Rogers contributed