The BVI Ports Authority has enhanced its patrolling capabilities with the acquisition of a new speedboat, Premier Andrew Fahie announced in a House of Assembly sitting last Thursday, during which he also gave details of the authority’s other recent financial dealings.
The boat, a 38-foot 2003- 2004 model Midnight Express interceptor vessel, has a reinforced hull and was purchased for $230,000 from Midnight Marine Holdings Limited after a tender process, Premier Andrew Fahie said in response to a question from Opposition Leader Marlon Penn (R-D8).
“The boat has a proven hull and is a low maintenance boat if operated properly and maintained properly,” the premier explained. “The boat will be used also for monitoring the authority’s marine devices, and also to provide assistance with harbour patrols.”
The contract to acquire the vessel was awarded to Midnight Marine after a “full transparent process of evaluation” was completed, according to the premier, who added that two other vendors also submitted bids as part of the tender process.
Midnight Marine is affiliated with EZ Shipping Limited, a private shipping company that received government contracts to provide barges for “radar plat- forms” designed to enhance security during the recent border closures.
Government has not pro- vided a full tally paid out to EZ, but legislators’ sporadic updates suggest that the company may have received more than $1.8 million since the barge system was announced last August.
During last Thursday’s HOA sitting, the premier said in response to a follow-up question from Mr. Penn that the second-place bidder was Marlon Choucoutou for a 2001 boat at $275,000, and that the third- place bidder was Jocelyn Maritime Training and Consultants for a 2002 boat for $320,000.
All boats were the same model, though different years, he said. There were no other bidders, according to the premier.
Mr. Fahie said the vessel was needed due to an upcoming audit from the International Maritime Organisation to be undergone by the BVIPA.
“The measures necessary [for the audit] include but are not limited to having the required full complement of staff in different areas of the organisation like security,among others,”he said.“These requirements also include the efficient and timely patrolling and managing of our officially designated harbour areas and signage.” Although the BVIPA has known about the upcoming audit for about five years, he claimed, preparations only began within the last year and a half.
In response to another question from the opposition leader, Mr. Fahie said that in October, the BVIPA spent $2 million to buy land to serve as the new passenger ferry port in Virgin Gorda.
However, this is a lower price than the $2.5 million cited by BVIPA Deputy Managing Di- rector Oleanvine Maynard during the November Standing Finance Committee hearings, according to a report on the closed-door SFC proceedings.
Last week, Mr. Fahie said the land, purchased from Dwite and Paola Flax in October, was located on two separate parcels, with the purchase price deter- mined by an appraisal conducted by Smiths Gore.
At the time of the purchase, the authority announced its intention to expand the Virgin Gorda port facility by separating the cargo and passenger ports, and the premier reiterated this logic, saying VG residents have long been clamouring for a separation between the two facilities, with no progress.
“Having cargo and passengers use the same dock at the same time is a recipe for disaster,” he said.
Mr. Fahie added that the land was purchased through an installment plan and the deadline for the final payment was March 31.
However, he said he did not know whether the final payment had been made.
The premier also disclosed that the BVIPA had paid DeCastro Enterprises $500,000 for a building in Road Town next to Sir Olva Georges Plaza on Waterfront Drive.
Mr. Penn asked whether the premier knew about the purchases before they were made, but the premier said he did not, and reiterated that he does not run the ports.
“The board made the decision,” Mr. Fahie responded. “And as minister, I was told when the decision was already made by the board.”
In response to another question from Mr. Penn, Mr. Fahie said the total of the salaries of all executive positions at the BVIPA was $995,600 last year, though he declined to provide specific salaries for each position, citing confidentiality concerns.
According to him, the executive positions are acting managing director, director of operations, director of market- ing, director of finance, operations manager, business development manager, administration manager, security manager, marine manager, project manager and communications and technology manager.
He added that the monthly payroll for the BVIPA is approximately $551,302, though the monthly payroll is not static, as some of the employees are paid hourly, and the payroll is affected based on the number of hours worked.
“Just to give you some insight, the February 2021 payroll total was $548,446.59 and March 2021 payroll was $551,302.32,” Mr. Fahie said. “Due to hourly pay, the employees and payroll fluctuates.”
The BVIPA’s total payroll for 2016 was $7,416,609.05, and the monthly average was $618,050.75, he said, adding that the payroll for 2017 was $6,575,518.06 and the monthly average was $547,959.84.
The payroll for 2018 was $565,615,228.06, and the monthly average was $467,935.67, accord- ing to the premier. Finally, he added, the total payroll for 2019 was $7,341,734.20, and the monthly average for that year was $611,811.18. He didn’t provide the corresponding numbers for 2020.
In response, Mr. Penn said, “The premier said the cumulative salary for executives was $995,600. The last time I asked this question … the cumulative salary at that point was one point something million dollars. Can the premier confirm if any executives were let go or laid off and why there’s a discrepancy in terms of the numbers?”
However, the premier declined to answer that question, claiming that it wasn’t sufficiently specific.
“Cumulative could be within two months, cumulative could be a half month, cumulative could be within three months,” Mr. Fahie said. “There are too much details and too much variables that are moving. That will have to come back in a subsequent question, so that it can be answered thoroughly, Mr. Speaker, so I will not venture into those shark-infested waters.”
Mr. Penn asked a similar question during an HOA sitting late last month.
At the time, the premier said the annual cumulative total of the salaries for the BVIPA managing director, three directors, eight managers and pier park CEO is $1,487,600. Last Thursday, he omitted the CEO’s salary in the list of positions he cited.
In April, Mr. Penn also asked the premier about salary cuts made at the BVIPA, including whether directors received pay cuts as well as employees; the annual amount paid to directors; and what the BVIPA would have saved if it had made salary cuts for the directors.
If a similar cut were made to director salaries, the government would have saved $267,082.48, the premier said at the time. However, he added that the pay cut for other BVIPA employees ,wasn’t in effect anymore but that it had saved $488,063.50.
The authority reduced the hours of its hourly employees to ease the financial strains caused partly by the Covid-19 global pandemic and partly by $20 mil- lion in investments for the Cyril B. Romney Tortola Pier Park under the previous administration, he added.
“The investment to date has not been fully realised [in] the projected returns,” the premier said during the April sitting. “If the cash resources were available, there would be no need to reduce salaries or increase port fees at this time.”
BVIPA directors did not receive pay cuts because they are not paid by the hour and are permanent employees, he added.
$40m-plus in debt
During last Thursday’s sit- ting, the premier said the authority is faced with existing debt in excess of $40 million, both to First Caribbean International Bank and to central government following expenditures on the development of the Cyril B. Romney Tortola Pier Park.
He added that “details are shown in the table below” but the HOA had not provided a copy of the table to the Beacon as of press time yesterday after- noon.
The loans from First Caribbean “are currently under a moratorium, and the authority actively negotiates the terms to be in a position to better manage that,” the premier said.
Mr. Penn later asked about the annual revenue collected from wharfage. The premier said it was $2,886,042.76 in 2016, $2,975,142.21 in 2017, $4,396,447.65 in 2018, $3,809,502.69 in 2019, and $2,826,187.43 in 2020.
“The total collected from the one percent wharfage from 2016 through to 2020 — and note this is less any expenses — is $16,963,652.74,” he announced.
Under the revised port fee structure rolled out in March, wharfage fees doubled from one percent to two percent. The increased fee is part of a major across-the-board hike introduced late last year to considerable outcry from the business community, as well as Mr. Penn himself, who accused the BVIPA of wasteful spending.
The premier later flip- flopped, announcing the increased fees would be gradually phased in.