Given that Premier Dr. Orlando Smith spent three years promising the public a comprehensive “audit” into the cruise pier project, we are greatly disheartened that the report finally released this month is technically no such thing.
Though the review conducted by KPMG (BVI) Limited was not without value, it did not probe the project’s finances as a formal audit would have done, and it didn’t provide any assurance on the accuracy of the financial statements provided by the government.
Partly as a result, the review did not fulfil leaders’ promise to get to the bottom of the rumours of impropriety surrounding the project’s $35 million-plus cost overrun.
Rather than conducting a formal audit, KPMG used unverified numbers provided by the government to review procurement processes; estimate a “fair market value;” and have the regional surveying firm Charterland probe the cost overruns, among other procedures.
Parts of the exercise — especially the procurement review — were quite useful. KPMG, for instance, found that the BVI Ports Authority was missing many important documents, and that it had repeatedly violated its own procurement procedures, which themselves did not fully accord with the law.
It is good to expose such issues, which are inexcusable in any government endeavour, let alone in connection with one the size of the $86 million pier project. The report, then, made clear that the BVIPA should immediately reform its procurement procedures and put in place a proper record-keeping system.
In other areas, however, the review was less helpful. In a section that is sure to be much quoted in defence of the pier project, Charterland used unverified figures provided by the government to suggest that the final costs appeared “reasonable.” However, given the procurement violations and other issues, it is unclear how this conclusion was reached, in part because the report is missing several pages.
When Dr. Smith announced his plan to hire a private firm to audit the project, opposition members said the government could not be trusted to properly commission what amounted to an investigation of itself. Given the final report, it is hard not to agree.
If government truly wanted answers, a financial audit would have been a good place to start. If that process turned up irregularities, a forensic audit could have probed deeper.
Given the extended delays in completing the review and the cost of such probes, we hesitate to call now for an audit to start from scratch, but it might not be a bad idea.
And in any case, the situation once again highlights a very important point: Whichever party wins the Feb. 25 election must quickly implement the necessary checks and balances to ensure that taxpayers get good value for their money.
The pier project was a great success in many ways: It was completed relatively quickly, and it fared impressively well in Hurricane Irma. But a $35 million-plus cost overrun on a $50 million budget is beyond the pale, and the KPMG review has not cleared the air.