British Virgin Islands

Wednesday, Sep 22, 2021

Premier, Customs boss grilled on origin of proposal for barge services

Premier, Customs boss grilled on origin of proposal for barge services

Questions continue to swirl over the circumstances which led to EZ Shipping’s first engagement with the BVI government to provide marine radar services for border security.

During recent hearings of the Commission of Inquiry (COI), Premier Andrew Fahie and Commissioner of Customs Wade Smith were asked about a reportedly unsolicited proposal the shipping company’s owner, Clyde Chalwell, to provide these services.

Chalwell reportedly offered his barge as a surveillance platform to assist with Joint Task Force (JTF) operations during the early stages of the pandemic last year.

Both men insisted that the proposal, while completely unsolicited, formed part of the government’s critical services at the time. However, the COI was reportedly told that radar services was a need which was only contained in a top-secret Comprehensive Border Security Plan at the time of the submission.

Unsolicited proposals common in BVI culture

Premier Fahie said Chalwell’s proposal to assist with border security was not something that he had discussed face-to-face with the EZ Shipping boss, nor was it even something he had ever solicited in advance.

Asked how Chalwell had decided to make the unsolicited proposal to him, Premier Fahie said: “I would say, in general, this is not uncommon at all in our culture. People meet you as elected official, as Premier, or otherwise, and tell you about businesses that they’re interested in and would the government be interested. And they will tell you that they’re going to write a letter, and they tell you this whether they meet you in the supermarket, in church, anywhere they do meet you, so it’s not uncommon at all.”

Fahie told the COI that once letters such as those from Chalwell are received, he would normally reroute them through the proper channels “so that they can get their affairs dealt with in the correct manner”. This instance with Chalwell was no different, he said.

Premier Fahie also told the COI he did not recall having any prior knowledge of being written to about any similar approaches by Chalwell or any other persons; adding that the issue did not fall within his remit.

He told the COI that either the Commissioner of Police or the Commissioner of Customs would have been informed of the proposal in the early stages of the establishment of the JTF.

Strange coincidence?

COI attorney Bilal Rawat, asked Customs boss Smith whether he felt it was strange that as government was internally and privately expressing an interest in marine radar platforms, a company should send in an unsolicited proposal to them.

Smith, who said he rejoined the Customs Department in August of 2020, related that he only first became aware of the proposal later that month as he was also a part of the JTF at the time.

According to Smith, the proposal was first submitted to the Commissioner of Police and the National Security Council in May 2020. He further declined to speculate on what may have prompted the proposal in the first instance.

He also told the COI that while he recalled that there was a public call from government for marine assets to assist with border patrols around that time, he could not recall any being made for a radar platform.

No close friends

Back over to the hearing with Premier Fahie, the COI quizzed the leader of government’s business about the nature of his relationship with Chalwell.

Premier Fahie said although he had known Chalwell for many years, he did not count him as a close friend.

“I don’t keep close friends, but I keep friends,” Premier Fahie explained when asked whether Chalwell was a closer friend than others.

A previously released post-Cabinet statement indicated the government paid a daily total of $11,600 for two barges between December 2020 and January 2021.


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