After almost two years of being tight-lipped about the issues that arose from the overspending on the Tortola Pier Park, Former Managing Director of the BVI Ports Authority, Claude Skelton-Cline finally spoke out on 3 July during his program Honestly Speaking – and in so doing accused the government of deliberately misleading the public and lying to the House of Assembly about the cost of the project.
Back in 2016 Skelton-Cline told reporters that he was only revealing nine percent of what he knew about the project, but he has now spilled up to 31 percent of what he knows and stated that there was more to tell.
Skelton-Cline described the public criticisms and complaints about the construction of the Tortola Pier Park as a legitimate concern and stated that he felt it necessary to say more on the matter: “It’s a question that has been posed by the Leader of the Opposition as to what had transpired and one of the things I do want to clear up for our listening audience…It is a myth, it is a false argument, it is a false narrative, it is a false story to suggest or for the National Democratic Party government to have left the House of Assembly and public with the impression that somehow Tortola Pier Park development was going to be $50M. That’s just a false story.”
The former Ports Director candidly accused the government of lying as he announced: “When you look at it and given the elongated period of time that they had allowed that [misunderstand about cost]to hang out there it turns out to be a bold face lie. There is no question under my tenure at the BVI Ports Authority and specifically as it relates to what we now know was Tortola Pier Park Development did we ever suggest to the government that we were building a project for $50M.”
He announced that from early in the project it was discovered that the cost would be in the region of $70M. “As a matter of fact, when we received what would have been a total development cost, we at the time were between $72M and $75M and we engaged with BCQS who was a member of our team in aggressive value engineering in order to pull that cost down…,” Skelton-Cline said.
“The government of which I used to be a part – the National Democratic Party Government is good at leaving you with impressions. Impressions that are more credible than they are, impressions that they are more truthful than they are, impressions that they are more capable than they are. They left the public and the House of Assembly with the impression that the development would only cost $50M, that is why people started crying out there must be a $30M overrun and under my tenure I can assure you there have been no overruns in the Development of the Tortola Pier Park,” he explained.
The former BVI Ports Authority Managing Director said that he even told Premier and Minister for Finance Dr. the Hon. D. Orlando Smith and the former Financial Secretary Neil Smith that the project could not be $50M: “I was called to a meeting with the Premier and the then Financial Secretary Neil Smith in the Premier’s Office. The reason I remember is because it was the same morning that they were going to the House of Assembly to pass the $15M loan funding from CIBC…and I recall saying to the Premier “Hon. Premier you know this Development is not $50M and in some sense you are leaving them with the impression that that’s the cost. That is not the cost as a matter of fact we are estimating now with a value engineer trying to bring that project we hope around $65M or so because we are not giving anything official to the government on that because we were still engaging our value engineer.”
“He [Premier Smith] said to me in response, and the Financial Secretary was sitting right there “well we not going to worry about that too much right now. We just going to get this past and then we’re gonna deal with that.”
However, Skelton-Cline says it is now a problem since accusations are being made about the cost of the project: “It may have even been sincere, but when you allow it to hang up there, and then you leave in my case as Managing Director my name and all of the team of persons who were part of the development that somehow there has been something fraudulent going on that’s what has been so egregious on the part of this government in dealing with the realities of the Tortola Pier Park,” he disclosed.
The former BVIPA managing director further mentioned that in August 2015 he delivered to the Minister for Communications and Works, Hon. Mark Vanterpool details of how the funds were spent. “Three binders that chronicled for the government every tender, every valuation, every check that was written specifically, the specific account that was designed to complete the Tortola Pier Park project; every single item that you could imagine 500 pages document so there was nothing lacking. We delivered that in August 2015 when we let the final contract…At that time it was $72M plus in terms of cost for the development of the Pier Park. What I can candidly speak to is that’s what it was,” he divulged.
Skelton-Cline said that he is bothered that persons continue to suggest that something nefarious took place with project funds when simple calculations would show that the project cost was more than $50M: “I remember the resolution there about October 2013 that $50M of it was going to be loan funded…We also added a public offering, we created what is called a special purpose vehicle so that that public offering could be gotten. And it boggles my mind, and anybody with any reasonableness would [know]–if you are borrowing $50M, and you are doing a public offering for $15M that in itself tells you that you are not building a project for $50M… Persons are not following factually the chronology of all that has unfolded… All of this foolishness out there make people look like they are lying or they stole something,” he said.
The former Managing Director also listed a number of professionals and experts who he pulled in to guide and advise on the project and stated that he did not make decisions in isolation. He also criticized the government for believing that the project was going to cost the same as it was proposed to under the previous public private partnership agreement.
“You cannot build a development of this magnitude based on the construct you were using before based on a public private partnership with persons who had their own engineers, brought their own equity. You took it from them and then decided to build it on your own. How can you then think – you don’t even have a hammer to pound; how could you then think that you could build it for the cost that they were suggesting that they would put it on. I want persons to be clear under my tenure and the team of persons that worked around me there were no cost overruns in that development and for sure we never gave to this government any number in the vicinity of $50M for the total development cost,” Skelton-Cline added.