Shortly after the 2019 election, the government gave two communications consultants from abroad one-year contracts worth a total of $176,000, according to a document provided to the opposition in the House of Assembly.
Why were these contracts needed? We don’t know, because Premier Andrew Fahie and other leaders won’t tell us.
We do know, however, that the territory’s public service includes a well-paid communications director and numerous other communications officers in Government Information Services and other agencies.
Moreover, there are many reputable communications firms owned by Virgin Islanders right here in the territory.
Do the foreign consultants, then, have special skills that GIS and local firms lack? We don’t know of any.
One of the consultants is Hamlet Mark, a Grenadian media worker and political operator whose $98,000 contract took effect four days after the February 2019 general election.
Mr. Mark has sparked controversy abroad for his alleged involvement in Caribbean politics, and his Facebook page suggests that he worked for the Virgin Islands Party leading up to its landslide victory in 2019.
The other consultant is Sunil Ramjitsingh, a Trinidadian whose $78,000 contract took effect June 1, 2019. Before that, his LinkedIn page states, he worked for 10 years as a “personal research assistant” to fellow Trinidadian Jack Warner, the former FIFA executive who has been battling extradition to the United States since he was indicted in 2015 in connection with allegations of wire fraud, racketeering and money laundering.
Given the questions that arise from these résumés, VI taxpayers need a full explanation for why the pair were hired here.
But so far, the only information government has provided about their roles comes from a cursory list of consultants provided to Opposition Leader Marlon Penn after requests in the HOA.
According to the list, Mr. Mark received his contract “to provide policy direction, external relations and communication services to assist the government throughout the strategic planning and execution of key initiatives.”
Mr. Ramjitsingh, meanwhile, received his contract to “provide support to the Office of the Premier in research, policy analysis and communication strategy,” the list states.
These vague descriptions seem to us to include no task that could not be carried out easily by public officers without any assistance from private firms here or abroad.
And although Mr. Fahie told the HOA last September that Mr. Mark was no longer working for the government at the time, he did not say the same about Mr. Ramjitsingh.
When the Beacon tried to learn more, it was met with a wall of silence from the government and from the consultants themselves.
The opposition leader said his efforts to obtain copies of the consultants’ contracts and other information have been similarly unsuccessful even though he has made multiple requests in the HOA.
This lack of transparency is unacceptable. There may be a good reason to hire both of the consultants. But taxpayers — who fund their contracts — deserve to know what it is.
The same goes for all the other contracts that the government has handed out to Virgin Islanders and foreigners alike since it came to office in 2019 with grand promises of transparency. Mr. Penn recently claimed that some $8 million had been budgeted for consultants alone.
Government’s silence on the topic speaks volumes.