cruise pier vanterpool
IDL Meridian Principal Engineer Richard Starkey explains some of the ongoing work at the cruise pier development site to Communications and Works Minister Mark Vanterpool and BVI Ports Authority Managing Director Claude Skelton-Cline on Monday afternoon. (File photo: CHRYSTALL KANYUCK-ABEL)

Former Communications and Works Minister Mark Vanterpool denied this week that he unlawfully “directed and controlled” the troubled cruise pier project, which eventually saw cost overruns totalling more
than $30 million.

He was speaking in response to one of several “potential criticisms” put to him by the Commission of Inquiry during a Tuesday hearing about the development.

At one point, COI Counsel Bilal Rawat suggested that Mr.  Vanterpool had taken control of the project “knowingly and unlawfully, to the exclusion of the statutory governing body and decision maker for the
port, the BVI Port Authority and its boards.”

Mr. Vanterpool, however, stuck to his story.

“I have said very clearly I have not done, in my view, anything unlawfully,” he said, echoing his position from his previous COI hearing. “I have
given evidence that this project  was done in a public way.”

On Friday, then-Financial Secretary Neil Smith and then-Deputy Financial Secretary Wendell Gaskin also responded to related “potential
criticisms” about the cruise pier project.

The criticisms — to which the witnesses had prepared written responses prior to the hearings — were based in part on evidence the COI had heard previously, as well as reports about the project by the opposition-led Public Accounts Committee and the auditor general.

Scope change

In Mr. Vanterpool’s hearing, another potential criticism suggested that he had decided without Cabinet approval to change the scope of the development from a projected $12 million effort to a planned $70  million.

Mr. Vanterpool did not explicitly accept or deny the suggestion. However, he said that under the BVI Ports Authority Act of 1990, “I could not have done it.”

“My understanding is that, as minister, I could not change the scope and the project like that” without Cabinet’s approval, he told the commission.
However, Mr. Vanterpool agreed, as he had in the previous hearing, with a criticism that the initial process to select a private partner did not involve any form of public tender.

Asked whether he went to Cabinet to request to waive the tender process he responded, “I don’t recall.”

But Mr. Rawat pressed that the pier was a “multimillion-dollar deal.”

“Surely,” he added, “you would remember having to go to Cabinet.”

In response, Mr. Vanterpool only said Cabinet was “involved” in the tender-waiver decision.

Three companies — CaribInvest, Trident Development Enterprise LLC, and TPP — each made a presentation to the government, he said, but they did not follow a formal process.

TPP was ultimately awarded a contract in 2013, but the deal fell apart in September 2013 after the parties could not agree to financing terms.

The project was then handed over to the BVIPA, which embarked on a
second iteration of the project.


Another potential criticism noted that the project’s scope was changed without a comprehensive plan, a project appraisal or a needs assessment.

But Mr. Vanterpool pushed back against this claim, explaining that several reports and an environmental impact assessment were commissioned by government, and a more comprehensive analysis was the responsibility of TPP.

“What you say is that effectively Tortola Port Partners would have had architects involved that would have had to do a complete analysis to submit to government in due course?”

Mr. Rawat asked. “Is that right?”

“Correct,” replied Mr. Vanterpool.

Claude Skelton-Cline

The COI also posed potential criticisms about the involvement of Claude Skelton-Cline in the pier project.

Mr. Skelton-Cline was initially hired as a consultant on the project through a $96,000 nobid contract in December 2011, the month after the National Democratic Party won an election and Mr. Vanterpool was appointed minister. He was later appointed managing director of the BVIPA in 2013.

The COI suggested that Mr. Vanterpool handled Mr. Skelton-Cline’s consultancy with limited transparency.

But Mr. Vanterpool explained in the hearing that he wanted someone he could trust and who would be entirely focused on the cruise pier project.

Financial secretaries

Mr. Gaskin, who testified on Friday, served as deputy financial secretary from 2011 to 2018.

According to the PAC report of 2014, which the COI considered as evidence in its previous hearings on the cruise pier in July, Mr. Gaskin had said that he represented the financial secretary on the BVIPA board, and that he had attended approximately 90 percent of the board meetings
during the time in question.

The COI’s “potential criticisms” toward Mr. Gaskin on Friday were similar to those put to Mr. Vanterpool. Most concerned an alleged lack of transparency in the handling of the cruise pier project, starting with an expedited tender process for the second iteration of the project after the TPP partnership failed.

“The concern is that that process lacks transparency and fairness,” Mr. Rawat said.

Mr. Gaskin responded that the criticism “indicted” the entire Tender Committee, which he chaired, and thus he was “completely refuting” it. Mr. Rawat, however, clarified that the criticism was directed at the Ministry of Finance.

Mr. Gaskin replied, “Ultimately, I’m not responsible for the Ministry of Finance.”

‘Too much trust’

In separate testimony on Friday, Mr. Smith was questioned on why he delegated authority to Mr. Gaskin to attend the BVIPA. board meetings in Mr. Smith’s stead as an ex-officio member during the time in which the PAC report alleged that Mr. Vanterpool had “commandeered” the project.

Mr. Smith replied that he expected Mr. Gaskin, given his background as head of internal audits, to understand and manage the situation accordingly.

“Perhaps I placed too much trust in him,” he said.

“As an ex officio member having delegated my duties to someone else, I have to accept the responsibility.”