The Commission of Inquiry Report has concluded that the $7.2 million BVI Airways project was plagued with mass instances of poor governance and dishonesty among public officials which led to its failure.

The COI Commissioner Sir Gary Hickinbottom made the disclosure within his 946-page Report.

He listed the former Premier and Minister of Finance Dr. D Orlando Smith and former Financial Secretary Dr. Neil Smith as the two key players of the then BVI Government as it relates to the project.

During the COI investigations both the officials “firmly” denied any failure of good governance on their part, a point of view that Sir Hickinbottom said he could not accept.

He said, “Looking at the project as a whole, whilst I accept that the policy foundation for the project was to encourage a higher level of tourism (and therefore benefit the BVI economy), my view is that the project was an example of extremely poor governance with dire financial consequences for the BVI Government, i.e. the expenditure of $7.2 million with no benefit obtained for the public at all.”

“Further, the failure of the BVI Government to require financial statements from BVI Airways (to which it was entitled under the Framework Agreement) means that what in fact happened to the $7.2 million, and upon what it was spent, is not known. The fact that some of the money was expended on (e.g.) obtaining licences and staff, does not by any means fully address that as an issue. Nor do the various findings of the arbitrator, such as his finding that BVI Airways used reasonable commercial efforts to establish the route,” Sir Hickinbottom explained.

9 instances of poor governance listed

The commissioner outlined nine good governance practices that he believed would have saved the then government from losing the $7.2 million investment, had they been used during the initial phases of the BVI Airways project.

Some of these practices included: exercising proper due diligence on the government’s attorney Lester Hyman; enforcing the Framework Agreement to ensure that regular financial statements were received and not waived; ensuring that Ryan Geluk – who was nominated by the government to sit on the Board of Directors – was not excluded from meetings and not left in the dark; regarding the advice of the Attorney General instead of ignoring it; and requiring the operating parties to provide a written commitment in respect of their financial input which would have formed part of the Framework Agreement.

Unsatisfactory circumstances sufficient for proof of dishonesty

Commissioner Sir Hickinbottom said it was the collection of the aforementioned listed breaches in good governance, which led to his conclusion that serious dishonesty among public officials did occur within the BVI Airways project.

He said, “These unsatisfactory circumstances are, in my view, probably sufficient in themselves to fall within paragraph 1 of my Terms of Reference, i.e. from them, I can be satisfied that, in respect of this project, there is information that some form of serious dishonesty in relation to public officials may have taken place.”

He added, “However, in circumstances in which there is an ongoing criminal investigation with public officials as the persons of interest, the criteria for paragraph 1 are even more clearly met.”

Sir Hickinbottom said that had the ongoing criminal investigation into the BVI Airways project not existed, he would have recommended an audit of the project and all companies involved.

He said it is important that the criminal investigation be allowed to run its course.