Shortly after Claude Skelton-Cline’s consulting firm received a $98,000 no-bid contract in April for wide-ranging services, Premier Andrew Fahie promised to provide the public with a report on Mr. Skelton-Cline’s accomplishments after the end of the six-month deal.
Nearly eight months later, no report has been released, but the Cabinet has agreed to award Mr. Skelton-Cline’s firm another no-bid contract worth more than $130,000 over the coming year.
The new contract for Grace Consulting will last from Sept. 18, 2019 to Aug. 17, 2020 at a rate of $12,000 per month, which will be paid “upon presentation of invoices … accompanied with status reports of the promised deliverables,” according to a summary of a Nov. 22 Cabinet meeting provided by the Cabinet Office.
The tender process was waived because the firm was “deemed to be a suitable company having successfully executed deliverables in a just-concluded contract and provided evidence of the same,” the summary added.
The new contract comes on the heels of a press conference last month in which opposition members accused Mr. Fahie’s administration of engaging in nepotism and cronyism, and Opposition Leader Marlon Penn criticised the government’s “literal assembly line of one $90,000-plus contract after another” — allegations strongly denied by Mr. Fahie.
Auditors have often decried successive administrations’ widespread use of “petty contracts” under $100,000, for which the government does not have to follow the same tendering procedures as with larger contracts. It is unclear whether Mr. Skelton-Cline’s new deal constitutes a $100,000-plus major contract or a different month-to-month arrangement.
In April government awarded Grace Consulting a $98,000 contract over a six-month period for wide-ranging services, including support to a programme to provide “1,000 jobs in 1,000 days;” negotiations for new terms of service with telecoms providers; negotiations for the development of the Prospect Reef site; negotiations toward new cruise line berthing agreements; work toward a seaplane tour excursion initiative; and “strategic advice on the creation of a climate resilience and renewable energy unit, and advice on projects linked to climate resilience,” according to a government press release at the time.
The statement added that Mr. Skelton-Cline would serve as chair of the Cruise Tourism Committee.
Mr. Fahie defended the first six-month contract in the House of Assembly on April 26.
“If he doesn’t produce, he’ll be fired. If he produces, well, then we’ll see,” Mr. Fahie said at the time. “When you sign a man with a contract, if the deliverables don’t come, he’s in trouble.”
The deal drew questions from opposition members and others who noted that Mr. Skelton-Cline has previously been at the centre of controversy for his involvement with other public projects, although he has strongly defended himself against criticisms.
Mr. Skelton-Cline, for instance, sued the government in 2016 because the Cabinet had not chosen to renew his contract as managing director of the BVIPA. His case was subsequently dismissed by the High Court.
During his time leading the BVIPA, Mr. Skelton-Cline oversaw the development of the Tortola Pier Park, which government leaders hailed as a success but which drew criticism for cost overruns of more than $30 million and missed construction target dates that resulted in lost tax revenue.
A government-contracted review of the project found that the BVIPA repeatedly violated its own procurement procedures, which themselves did not fully accord with the law, and failed to produce many of the documents that the reviewers requested.
Before that, Mr. Skelton-Cline also drew criticism for a perceived lack of transparency surrounding how he spent nearly $600,000 in public money that another of his consultancies received in 2009 and 2010 to implement a programme called the Neighbourhood Partnership Project.
That effort, which detractors said showed few results, was associated with the Ministry of Education and Culture, which at the time was led by Mr. Fahie.
Mr. Skelton-Cline has defended his record and argued that his detractors were politically motivated, but he has not responded to recent requests for comment.
Since receiving his first contract in April, Mr. Skelton-Cline has made several appearances at government events, not all of them related to the list of services included in his firm’s contract.
In addition to playing an unspecified role in the “1,000 Jobs in 1,000 Days” initiative, he also moderated public discussion in which Mr. Fahie and other government ministers expressed their views on the United Kingdom’s £300 million loan guarantee and answered questions from the audience.
Additionally, he runs the radio and social media show “Honestly Speaking,” on which he has interviewed community leaders including Mr. Fahie and other government ministers.
Mr. Skelton-Cline’s work with the “1,000 Jobs in 1,000 Days” initiative also has been publicly visible at times.
During a September meeting with the BVI Chamber of Commerce and Hotel Association held to gather interest and support in the project, he said that 538 people had signed up as prospective employees under the programme since it launched on Aug. 14.
Mr. Skelton-Cline also told business owners at the meeting that the intake process for jobseekers did not replace any interview process a company would do otherwise.
It is unclear what other role he has played in the initiative.
Meanwhile, scant information has surfaced publicly about the progress of many other duties included in Grace Consulting’s previous contract.
For example, no details have been provided about any work Mr. Skelton-Cline has done in the area of climate change, although the government has undone steps taken by the previous administration.
Since Mr. Skelton-Cline’s original contract was announced, Cabinet has revoked the membership of all six members of the Climate Change Trust Fund Board under a new “policy” in which all government committees and statutory bodies will have a tenure mirroring the life span of the administration in power. The move was apparently not authorised in the board’s enabling legislation.
Government has not provided a date for when a new board will be reinstated.
Telecoms, cruise lines
It is also unclear what role the consultant may have played in recent government negotiations with telecoms stakeholders.
Mr. Fahie said in June that he had been holding meetings with industry players to address widespread complaints of costly and unsatisfactory internet service, and during a July workshop government worked with various organisations towards finalising a draft National Information and Communications Technology Policy and Strategy. Government statements did not mention any involvement of Mr. Skelton-Cline.
His potential involvement in cruise line negotiations is similarly unclear. Government officials have held several meetings in recent months to secure and boost berthing agreements with cruise lines, but government statements and comments credited Mr. Fahie, and not Mr. Skelton-Cline, with these efforts.
In May, representatives from Disney and Norwegian, as well as the Florida Caribbean Cruise Association, toured the territory and visited government officials, and in October Mr. Fahie and representatives from four cruise lines hosted a public meeting to discuss ways to boost revenue from the industry.
Meanwhile, the premier boasted of commitments to bring in more calls and cruise ship passengers in a July 31 HOA sitting after four months of “intense lobbying” with international cruise partners.
While securing cruise line berthing agreements was included in Mr. Skelton-Cline’s original contract, it is unclear if he or his firm played a role in these negotiations.
Other services laid out in Grace Consulting’s original contract were the development of the Prospect Reef site and a seaplane tour excursion initiative, but there have been few updates on these fronts either.
After the previous government’s deal to develop the decrepit Prospect Reef Resort with the United States firm ICA Group fell apart around March, then Junior Minister of Tourism Shereen Flax-Charles said during the budget debate on April 26 that she had spoken to potential developers for the property at a cruise industry conference. Last month, the premier said in his Budget Address that a call for expressions of interest would be issued soon.
Messrs. Fahie and Skelton-Cline did not respond to requests for comment, and efforts to obtain the contracts have been unsuccessful.