Government had hired the shipping company to host radar equipment to assist the territory in detecting smuggling activity when the territory’s borders closed because of the pandemic last year.
Matthews was asked to speak on the matter when he appeared before the Commission of Inquiry (COI) recently.
And in an email read aloud during a recent hearing of COI, Matthews is cited as writing, “… [regarding] such use of private vessels, my view is that for such high sums of money we should go out to tender and let others bid”.
Addressing the COI directly, the former top cop also said he was surprised at Chalwell’s offer since a request for the radar platforms was never put into the public domain and was only up for discussion at the National Security Council (NSC) and Joint Task Force (JTF) level at the time.
“Well, as you can see, as it’s indicated in there, it took me completely by surprise because up until that point, there had been no conversation that I could recall or within the National Security Council around the use of static barges or any proposal,” the former Commissioner stated.
Matthews — who previously expressed a preference to use non-radar charter vessels manned by law enforcement officers to patrol the waters — told the COI that Chalwell offered the barge as a radar platform at an initial cost of $17,500 per day.
Government later disclosed that it retroactively approved $360,000 to be paid to EZ Shipping Limited which had provided two barges for the period from December 23, 2020, to January 22, 2021.
The former Commissioner further related that at one stage, he was tasked to revisit earlier decisions regarding border security and there was much debate in the JTF about what the best solution was.
“When good colleagues in Customs were looking at barge options, at the same time, I had tasked my team back to the charter industry again and look at charter boat options which … were much, much cheaper options on the table as far as I was concerned,” Matthews stated
He told the COI that charter boats were available at one stage for free before some owners later made offers of their vessels of up to $2,000 per week to support law enforcement efforts to patrol the BVI’s waters.
However, the free option was not viable because Customs are not legally allowed to accept gifts. “That can lead to collusion and that kind of the stuff,” said Leslie Lettsome, who was Acting Customs Commissioner at the time of the barge deal.
Meanwhile, Matthews said he felt that prior to COVID-induced lockdown in the BVI, there was inadequate security on local waters.
“For an island-based community, you know, islands, we were porous, and we needed a robust and visible response on the water,” Matthews stated.
And in discussions with former Governor Augustus Jaspert, Matthews said he pushed for funding to purchase static radar since there was previously an offer developed through UK mechanisms.