Though government’s failed cruise pier development deal with the consortium Tortola Ports Partners died about nine months ago, the opposition-led Public Accounts Committee delivered a scathing post-mortem report Friday alleging that the developer selection process repeatedly flouted government’s procurement rules.

 

The report, which was tabled in the House of Assembly by Opposition Leader Ralph O’Neal, ran to more than 700 pages, including documents and transcripts with the 13 public officers and BVI Ports Authority board members interviewed by the PAC.

The committee’s conclusions are wide-ranging:

• That when he came to office in November 2011, Communications and Works Minister Mark Vanterpool “commandeered” an existing proposal to borrow $12 million from Disney Cruise Lines to extend the pier. Instead, the project’s scope and expense grew significantly without a prior Cabinet decision or consultation with the BVIPA board, the report alleges.

• That it remains disputed how developers became aware of the project. BVIPA Managing Director Claude Skelton-Cline told the PAC that several companies including TPP were solicited via an “electronic bid-by-invitation” process, but Arliene Smith-Thompson, former acting permanent secretary in the MCW, denied that any submissions were sent out, according to the PAC.

• That the BVIPA’s decision-making role was frequently “overridden and usurped by the minister” and that board members felt “compelled to sign off on matters that had been decided without their input or consideration.”

• That Mr. Vanterpool and the Ministry of Finance, through either intention or a lack of knowledge, made “concerted efforts” to “obscure information regarding the processes undertaken on the process.” The PAC recommended that Deputy Financial Secretary Wendell Gaskin be disciplined for insubordination and allegedly providing false information to the committee.

• That officials agreed to pay TPP more than $1.77 million for engineering and design services rendered even though the firm PricewaterhouseCoopers assessed the bill for those services to be $1.09 million. The PAC also questioned the necessity of a $262,500 “success fee” offered to PWC for helping to secure a $35 million loan for the project.

Recommendations

Due to these concerns, the committee recommended that future tender processes be carried out with more transparency and further scrutiny of companies’ ability to meet their financial obligations.

It also recommended that new rules be written to clarify the differing responsibilities of central government and its statutory boards.

Additionally, the PAC recommended that Governor Boyd McCleary appoint a commission of inquiry, which would have broad powers to compel witnesses to testify, to examine the matter further.

Contacted Monday, Mr. McCleary said that he had not read the report and couldn’t comment on its contents.

After the document was tabled in the HOA, Andrew Fahie (R-D1) moved for it to be debated immediately, a request that Premier Dr. Orlando Smith said “flabbergasted” him because legislators had only had three days to review it.

Mr. Fahie’s motion failed after he was outvoted by National Democratic Party legislators. The premier, however, promised to debate the document at a future HOA sitting.

Previous criticism

Many of the report’s concerns have been raised before. John Tercek, a Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines vice president, wrote to Mr. McCleary last year alleging that the tender process was designed to favour TPP.

And a year later, Sonia Webster, the territory’s auditor general, heavily criticised the selection process for deviating from proper procurement guidelines, asserting that it contained the potential for conflict of interest because some Cabinet members may have had connections to the BVI Investment Club, a proposed local partner of TPP.

Her report, which was leaked to the media, also chastised officials for withholding documents from her office, a claim that was repeated by the PAC.

The committee singled out Mr. Gaskin as being particularly uncooperative with their inquiry.

A record of his PAC interview depicts him as describing Ms. Webster’s office as “incompetent and not in a position to conduct audits” while Ms. Webster was in the room.

Mr. Gaskin also allegedly told the committee that “there was nothing to suggest a connection” between TPP and the BVI Investment Club when documents proved otherwise.

Mr. Gaskin did not return calls seeking comment for this article.

Vanterpool’s reponse

For his part, Mr. Vanterpool said that he believes the PAC hasn’t raised any new concerns.

“They have been investigating, which is what they should do,” he said in an interview Tuesday. “If they can come up with something that I have a concern about, I would certainly be happy to look at it. What I’ve seen so far does not concern me to that extent.”

He also denied interfering with the BVIPA’s decision-making process.

“The Ports Authority passed a resolution to execute the project as we’re executing it now,” he said. “In every step that we made as far as I know, nothing was done that was outside of the ports authority’s resolutions.”

Mr. Skelton-Cline declined to comment for this article.

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