The Commission of Inquiry (COI) report recommended a full audit and, if deemed necessary, criminal investigations for government contracts with EZ Shipping – the company contracted in 2020 to use radar barges as part of the defenses maritimes of the territory.
In the report presented by Commissioner Sir Gary Hickinbottom, it was recommended that the terms of this verification exercise include examining the circumstances under which the company was retained by the government in the first place.
During the COI, Prime Minister Fahie had repeatedly denied initiating an engagement with the owner of EZ ShippingClyde Chalwell, and said it was an unsolicited proposal sent by the company to his office that triggered the engagement.
Sir Gary also recommended that the exercise examine the extent to which public procurement policies in place for major contracts were adhered to, as well as a rationale for any deviations from these regulations.
At the time, EZ Shipping was contracted to house government radar equipment and help detect contraband activity. They were described by Prime Minister Fahie as having saved the government countless millions.
In the meantime, Sir Gary also said the audit exercise should examine why the services were provided prior to approval by the Territory’s Joint Law Enforcement Task Force, the National Security Council, the Cabinet and Governor.
According to Sir Gary, factors such as the political objectives of the contracts, the effectiveness of the contracts and the achievement of those objectives should also be considered in the audit.
In addition, it would also have to be determined whether there was value for the millions of dollars spent.
“While this will be the responsibility of the National Security Council, in my view, the consideration of national security should not affect the access granted to the Auditor General in carrying out this audit,” said Sir Gary.
He admitted, however, that this could affect his ability to publish his report in unredacted form.
According to the commissioner, unless the competent authorities decide otherwise, other measures, including any criminal investigation and any measures aimed at recovering public funds, can await the result of this audit.
Expedition owner EZ Chalwell was eventually awarded three separate government contracts starting August 23, 2020 and extending through January 2020. It was further revealed that the tender process had been canceled at several times for each of these three contracts.
Ultimately, these contracts ended up costing taxpayers some $2,040,000 for two or three of Chalwell’s radar-equipped barges for rent from EZ Shipping and stationed offshore to monitor shipping traffic and alert law enforcement. local order.
Background of the EZ Shipping contract
Towards the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the BVI government decided to announce a 24-hour lockdown and closed its borders from March 27 to April 20, 2020.
Until a more permanent solution can be sought, temporary measures have been considered and implemented to prevent illegal entries by sea.
When the BVI closed its borders in March 2020, then-Commissioner of Police (CoP) Michael Matthews said he realized that keeping the closed borders secure was beyond the ability of the BVI alone. Royal Virgin Islands Police (RVIPF).
It was then that Matthews approached both Her Majesty’s Customs and the Department of Immigration about a possible joint approach to the matter.
As a result, a Joint Task Force (JTF) of the three law enforcement branches was established in April of that year.
Commissioner of Customs Wade Smith chaired this body while Chief Immigration Officer Ian Penn and CoP Matthews also represented their agencies on the working group.
At the time of its creation, the JTF was specifically tasked with developing a comprehensive border security plan.
Initially, private seagoing vessels were used to secure the BVI borders, but this option was later deemed untenable and removed as an alternative.
It was revealed during the COI that then-Governor Augustus Jaspert was willing to request British military assistance in the form of a small team of advisers, but Prime Minister Andrew Fahie later indicated that he was unwilling to have British military assistance in the BVI at this time. weather.
It was the day after the prime minister gave that hint that Chalwell’s unsolicited proposal first surfaced.
In his testimony to the COI, the Prime Minister explained that such unsolicited proposals were not uncommon at BVI.
By the time the NSC and Cabinet finally came to consider EZ Shipping’s first radar barge lease, the barges had already been in service for some time.
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