We don’t understand why the government should pay Claude Skelton-Cline’s consulting firm $98,000 for six months of work that the public service should be doing.
But now that leaders have announced the no-bid contract, they should fully explain their thinking and then provide the public with a comprehensive and transparent accounting of Mr. Skelton-Cline’s accomplishments in the coming months.
They should do the same with any other consultants they hire in the future.
Mr. Skelton-Cline’s remit includes a bizarrely broad range of largely unrelated tasks, all of which appear to align closely with the work of at least one government agency.
For example, he is charged with providing “strategic advice on the creation of a climate resilience and renewable energy unit, and advice on projects linked to climate resilience.”
Why shouldn’t these initiatives be handled by the climate change coordinator and other staff in the Ministry of Natural Resources, Labour and Immigration in consultation with the Climate Change Trust Fund and the BVI Electricity Corporation?
And for specific advice on resilience projects, government need look no further than the territory’s 2012 Climate Change Adaptation Policy, which lays out well-conceived measures designed to prepare for global warming. If leaders want to distinguish themselves from their predecessors, they shouldn’t need a consultant to tell them to revisit the policy and start following it.
According to government, Mr. Skelton-Cline will also head three sets of upcoming negotiations: for new terms of service with telecommunications providers; for the development of the Prospect Reef site; and for new cruise line berthing agreements. Putting aside pressing questions about whether all of these tasks are even needed, we see no reason why they can’t be handled by the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission, the Premier’s Office, and the BVI Ports Authority, respectively.
Another of Mr. Skelton-Cline’s responsibilities — helping plan a programme designed to create 1,000 jobs in 1,000 days — sounds more like campaign rhetoric than sound policy, but in any case it should be the prerogative of the Department of Trade, Investment Promotion and Consumer Affairs.
Add to this his mandate to “identify and facilitate a seaplane tour excursion initiative,” which seems more like a private-sector undertaking that would closely involve the BVI Airports Authority.
Though Mr. Skelton-Cline, a minister of religion, previously served as managing director of the BVI Ports Authority, he doesn’t have obvious experience in many of the areas under his new remit, and he declined to give this newspaper an interview.
Further complicating the situation is his record, which has been marred by controversy in recent years.
As head of the BVIPA, he oversaw the development of the cruise pier project, which drew criticism for cost overruns of more than $30 million. A government-contracted review of the project released in January found that the BVIPA had repeatedly violated its own procurement procedures, which themselves did not fully accord with the law, and failed to produce many of the documents that the reviewers requested.
Amid the fallout from that project, Mr. Skelton-Cline sued the government in 2016 because the Cabinet had not chosen to renew his contract.
Before that, he also drew criticism for a perceived lack of transparency surrounding how he spent nearly $600,000 in public money that another of his consultancies received in 2009 and 2010 to implement a programme called the Neighbourhood Partnership Project.
Mr. Skelton-Cline has defended his record and argued that his detractors were politically motivated, but questions about both projects remain unanswered.
Leaders, then, owe the public a better explanation for this new expense, especially considering past administrations’ record of hiring consultants to compile reports that cost taxpayers millions but were never released to the public. The current effort must show tangible results that are shared in real time.
Meanwhile, if public officers are unwilling or unable to implement the new government’s agenda, leaders should redouble efforts to reform the civil service, not sidestep it by hiring outside consultants. And any partners who are hired — including consultants — should be sourced through a transparent bidding process, not secured through no-bid petty contracts.
The new government came to power promising transparency and good governance. Part of meeting that bar is changing the way the government has traditionally employed consultants.