Oops! I made a mistake supporting Skelton Cline’s contracts — Premier
Premier Dr Natalio Wheatley has declared that he blundered in supporting the series of government contracts Claude Skelton Cline was gifted immediately after the Andrew Fahie-led Virgin Islands Party was elected into government back in 2019.
Premier Wheatley admitted to making this mistake on Tuesday as he tabled before the House of Assembly (HOA), the Auditor General’s December 2022 report on the examination of public contracts issued to Skelton Cline from March 2019 to September 2021. Those controversial contracts were issued via the Premier’s Office.
“These contracts for Claude Skelton Cline did come to Cabinet and I did support them. And I’m here to say to you that I believe that my support for these contracts was a mistake. And I believe that the former Premier made a mistake in engaging Claude Skelton Cline with these contracts,” Dr Wheatley told the HOA.
No value for money; he was just given a job
Auditor General Sonia Webster concluded in her report that the primary purpose of the consultancy services Skelton Cline provided to government over the period in question “was not to add value to the government but rather to provide employment for the consultant (Skelton Cline)”.
The Auditor General added that the records do not show any demonstrated effort by the Skelton Cline to actually satisfy the deliverables stipulated in the contracts.
“The audit confirmation exercises performed indicate that much of the work reported or claimed by the consultant was undertaken by persons and programmes independent of the consultancy. In a number of cases, his association with the programmes was either fleeting or non-existent. The information in the consultant’s periodic reports was largely duplicated without demonstrating any advancement or effort to achieve progress. As a result, very little was gained from this arrangement and the government failed to receive value for money on these contracts,” Webster wrote in her report.
She added: “After a period of two and a half years, none of the initiatives stipulated in the three contracts have been delivered.”
What were the contracts and how much was he paid?
The extent of the three contracts are as follows:
On March 25, 2019, Skelton Cline (doing business as Grace Consulting) was engaged by the Premier’s Office as a “Strategic Advisor” via a six-month petty contract which saw the controversial consultant being paid $16,330 per month with a five per cent end-of-contract gratuity. That contract named five specific areas of focus — Climate Change and renewable energy, the ‘1,000 jobs in 1,000 days’ programme, youth empowerment, telecommunications, and Prospect Reef. According to the Auditor General, four of the five deliverables were left open with no definition of what would constitute satisfactory completion.
The second contract was signed on December 2, 2019, and provided employment from September 18, 2019 to September 17, 2020. Skelton Cline’s new assignment was to assist the government in identifying and developing a portfolio of revenue-generating initiatives. Under this contract, Skelton Cline was responsible for developing and delivering a minimum of three initiatives that would generate a minimum of five million dollars in revenue to the government. He was paid a $12,000 monthly for this gig.
The third contract awarded to Skelton Cline was on November 26, 2020, and covered the period September 18, 2020 to September 17, 2021. “This echoed the objectives of Contract 2 (to deliver three revenue initiatives generating income of $5 million per year) and the basis of the assignment and services were unchanged. The remuneration was however reduced to $9,000 per month,” the Auditor General’s report noted.
The report further noted that Skelton Cline’s second and third contracts were tender waivers approved by Cabinet. It said the narrative provided in the November 2019 Cabinet Paper did not discuss whether the deliverables had been achieved from the first contract nor did it comment on the Skelton Cline’s performance or accomplishments. Cabinet, nonetheless, recommended a second engagement even though no evidence was presented to prove that Skelton Cline possessed the relevant qualifications in finance or economics or any relevant professional background to provide comfort that there was reasonable expectation he could perform the duties for which he was tasked.
Skelton Cline was paid a combined total of a little more than $365,000 for the contracts.