Minister for Health and Social Development in the Unity Government and member of the National Democratic Party (NDP) Hon Marlon A. Penn (R8) spent much time in the House of Assembly (HoA) on February 21, 2023, seemingly trying to wipe himself and party clean of the controversial contracts given to consultant Claude O. Skelton-Cline during the Andrew A. Fahie led Virgin Islands Party (VIP) Administration.
He was; however, subtly reminded by Premier and Minister of Finance Dr the Hon Natalio D. Wheatley (R7) that there is much blame to pass around; however, the goal should be to move forward together to improve where the VI continues to fall short.
The House of Assembly was at the time debating the Auditor General's Report on the examination of public contracts issued to Mr Skelton-Cline between March 2019 and September 2021.
In the Report, the Auditor General concluded that in the three consultancy contracts given to Mr Skelton-Cline, with an income of roughly $16,000 per month, he was paid exorbitantly and that his contribution to the success of the initiatives was marginal at best.
‘Fmr Cabinet has to take responsibility’- Hon Penn
According to Hon Penn, it was during the Andrew A. Fahie
Administration, when he [Hon Penn] was Leader of the Opposition, that he had questioned various consultancy contracts being issued.
He also pointed out that Mr Skelton-Cline was part of the VIP elections campaign team.
“And the former Cabinet has to take responsibility for this, not whitewash it and shove it under the rug.”
Hon Penn emphasised that the Members of the Cabinet “who approved these things and the Members who went along with these things have to be held accountable too for their actions to the people of the Virgin Islands
,” Hon Penn said during the Third Sitting of the Fifth Session of the Fourth House of Assembly in Road Town.
Noting that even those at the level of the Treasury Department would have played a role in the matter, since monies were paid out to Mr Skelton-Cline even without deliverables, Hon Penn said: “Those of us who are complicit in their actions of aiding and abetting this system need to be held accountable, Madam Speaker.”
‘We are not without sin’- Premier Wheatley
Premier Wheatley; however, reminded the HoA that the Bible says he who is without sin cast the first stone.
“We are not without sin, we are not without blame,” Hon Wheatley stated.
According to the Premier, the Commission of Inquiry
) audits placed “a real focus” on the VIP administration from 2019; however, CoI
Commissioner Sir Gary R. Hickinbottom
and former United Kingdom Overseas Territories Minister Amanda A. Milling have both said the failures experienced in governance span successive administrations.
Hon Wheatley noted; however, that while there is deficiency in some areas, the VI has far more areas to be proud of and that he was also proud of the legislators for committing to reform.
“But Madam Speaker, saying my sin is bigger than your sin, that is not going to get us anywhere. Saying, you know what, all of you are complicit in this and therefore you have no value or worth moving forward into leadership, that is not going to get us anywhere.”
‘Ploy for political power’
Dr Wheatley said if one is to look back past the three and a half years that was the focus of the CoI
, one would find lots of examples where mistakes were made.
“We right next to the Elmore Stoutt High School right now and there was an audit on a wall, and there were individuals charged actually for that, and they led parties, and we stood next to them. We even wrote letters defending them.”
Dr Wheatley was referring to former Chairman of the NDP Myron V. Walwyn, who is also a former Education Minister in the NDP administration.
Mr Walwyn, is one of three persons charged for Breach of Trust in relation to criminal investigations into the ESHS wall project.
Dr Wheatley also pointed to the failed BVI Airways deal, where the NDP Administration of which Hon Penn was part of paid out $7.2M but the project never materialised. The NDP had also violated its own contract agreement in making payments without deliverables.
“And we could point to other places, Madam Speaker, if you talk about waste of government funds, we can look to the planes that never materialised. I mean I could on and on and on, Madam Speaker, but those things don’t get us anywhere.”
It was also under the NDP that Mr Skelton-Cline, who was a strong elections campaigner for the party from 2011, was named Managing Director of the BVI Ports Authority.
In 2015, the NDP Government also illegally diverted some $8M intended for the East End/Long Look Sewerage Project to fund the development of the Tortola Pier Park Project.
Dr Wheatley said such pointing of fingers and dodging blame is just a ploy for political power.
“We need to learn from all of those experiences, whether they happened between 2011 and 2019, 2019 and 2023, whether they happened before them, learn from those experiences, grow and move forward.”
He called on politicians to present their plans to move the VI forward. “Tell us how we are going to improve these very same things,” Dr Wheatley stated.
The Auditor General’s Report on the
Examination of Public Contracts issued to Claude Skelton Cline (dba
Grace Consulting & Grace Center) from March 25, 2019 to September
17, 2021 was debated in the House of Assembly on February 21, 2023.