The BVI Tourist Board is considering implementing evening ferry service from Tortola to St. Thomas. (File photo: CONOR KING DEVITT)

Last week, Communications and Works Minister Mark Vanterpool told House of Assembly members that Al Henley, the former acting managing director of the BVI Ports Authority, awarded more than $2 million worth of contracts without the approval of the BVIPA’s board.

Mr. Henley, however, contested that statement this week.

“It’s the furthest thing away from the truth,” he told the Beacon yesterday. “The board was involved — especially the [chairwoman].”

Mr. Henley added that he didn’t want to elaborate on what he said is “going to be a legal matter.”

He did have words for Mr. Vanterpool, however.

“Coward politician,” the former Ports official said when asked about Mr. Vanterpool’s potential motivation for saying he awarded unapproved contracts.

Mr. Henley also said he left the BVIPA voluntarily on Feb. 5 because “the port is in shambles and the decision makers need to make their decisions.”

“I don’t want to be a part of an organisation that’s not progressive,” he added.

Neither Mr. Vantepool nor BVIPA Chairwoman Jennifer Potter-Questelles could immediately be reached for comment regarding Mr. Henley’s rebuke.

The post of managing director is currently vacant, according to a BVIPA official.

Ferry terminal contracts

In response to a question from Opposition Leader Andrew Fahie at a House of Assembly sitting last month, Mr. Vanterpool (R-D4) said that Mr. Henley made special recommendations to the BVIPA board for contractors to repair the Road Town ferry terminal “due to time constraints and the need for urgent action.”

As a result, the BVIPA paid Sunstate Builder more than $445,000 for remedial works on the facility and J&B Maintenance $30,000 for roof repairs, according to the minister. It appears from his statement that neither went through the tender process.

However, in response to another question from Mr. Fahie at the sitting last week, Mr. Vanterpool said Mr. Henley awarded those contracts without the board’s approval, also “in light of the urgency” to repair the building after the hurricane.

“Post-Irma, the building was vulnerable and exposed to weather, looting and other negative elements,” the minister said when asked how the contract commenced without authorisation from the board. “Therefore, work commenced immediately after to close the building, and later a contract to secure the entire building was awarded.”

Legal contracts?

The board members were later advised that the contracts were legal because Mr. Henley was a signatory to the board, so they ratified the deals by approving them retroactively, Mr. Vanterpool added.

Mr. Fahie (R-D1) pointed out that the ferry terminal was finished only recently and questioned how a project operating on that timetable could be considered urgent enough to waive the tender process.

“I don’t know if I know all the details of it and I don’t know of the full process of the tendering,” Mr. Vanterpool responded. “I believe there was a shortlisting done between the project manager at the time and the acting managing director at the time.”

He added that he could not “deny or confirm” whether there were other contractors or, if there were, how they were considered.

Mr. Fahie also asked if other contracts were doled out in similar fashion.

“In terms of clear transparency, the contracts similar to this were awarded to the total of the tune of $2.1 million that were awarded this way that the board ratified at a later stage,” Mr. Vanterpool responded.

It is unclear if the total $2.1 million figure he mentioned includes the $475,000 awarded for Road Town ferry terminal repairs.