After a 22-page dissection of the clergyman’s three government contracts over the last three years, COI Commissioner Sir Gary Hickinbottom concluded in his report that even when compared with other projects the COI examined, Skelton Cline’s contracts had strands of governance that were not only very poor, but quite astonishing.
“On the evidence, there can be little if any doubt that these contracts were, on their face, false. They did not attempt to set out the intended contractual obligations of Mr Skelton Cline (if any),” Sir Gary found.
“I did not find any explanation of this that was put forward to be at all persuasive, or anything but transparently thin,” he added.
Sir Gary found that the overwhelming evidence was that, from 2019, Skelton Cline was very much Premier Andrew Fahie’s personal choice as a political adviser. He further noted that public officers had little if anything to do with assessing Skelton Cline’s suitability for that post or with monitoring his performance in it.
“Even on this basis, it is still not entirely clear how payments came to be made to Mr Skelton Cline under the contracts … [since] it is now not suggested that he was complying (or attempting to comply) with his obligations as set out in the contracts.”
According to Sir Gary, the Permanent Secretary in the Premier’s Office, Dr Carolyn O’Neal Morton authorised payment to Skelton Cline while the Financial Secretary triggered/released the payment.
Two Financial Secretaries – Dr Neil Smith and Jeremiah Frett – served during the greater duration of Skelton Cline’s contracts. Former Financial Secretary, Glenroy Forbes was present for Skelton Cline’s first contract in March 2019 but demitted office in June 30, 2019.
“In the circumstances … I am satisfied that there is information that serious dishonesty in relation to public officials may have taken place in relation to these contracts,” Sir Gary wrote.
Meanwhile, the Commissioner concluded that, “as soon as practical, a full audit of these contracts should be performed by the Auditor General or some other independent person or body instructed by her, and a report on that audit be presented to the Governor.”
He said this should be to the extent that the clergyman was not performing his contractual obligations, the circumstances in which Skelton Cline was paid out of the public purse; and whether the contracts provided any value for money.
“Unless, in the meantime, the relevant BVI authorities consider otherwise, further steps including any criminal investigation and steps to recover public money (including recovery from any public official who has acted improperly) can await the outcome of that audit,” Sir Gary noted in his report.