The Government will no longer pursue a contract with Tortola Pier Partners (TPP) which won a bid earlier this year to undertake the expansion of the Road Town Cruise Pier and the development of the immediate lands around the project.
Premier and Minister of Finance Dr. D. Orlando Smith made the surprise announcement today, September 27, citing time constraints.
The Premier's announcement today comes on the heels of revelations that the Government had approached the United Kingdom in July to approve the deal with TPP.
"This decision has been communicated and accepted by Tortola Pier Partners as conditions precedent to the agreement were not concluded in a timely manner," the Premier indicated.
During the announcement, the Premier did not indicate what steps were not adhered to in a timely manner.
However, the Premier said that Government remains committed to the project and will pursue it expeditiously, in association with the BVI Ports Authority.
"My Government understands the importance of this project and its timely completion to our tourism product. We felt any further delay would jeopardise our competitiveness and realisation of economic opportunities for the territory," Premier Smith stated.
He added that simply put, a modern cruise pier and surrounding amenities are crucial for the Virgin Islands to be a vibrant and desirable cruise destination.
According to the Premier, the decision came after much deliberation and my Government's commitment to rebuilding 'our' cruise tourism market with a long-term vision to ensure its stability and opportunity for economic advancement for 'our' people.
"With the expansion of the pier and the development of the land around the pier, it remains a vital opportunity for our people to realise the economic benefits from our tourism industry," Premier Smith revealed.
In 2012 Government signed a Heads of Understanding agreement with Tortola Port Partners Limited (TPP). At the time TPP was said to be a joint venture of the Jay Cashman Group and the United Infrastructure Group. However, that process was halted and new bid process undertaken.
Government has been heavily criticized over its handling of the negotiation process with the group. One of the companies that participated in the revised bid process, Royal Caribbean Cruises Limited (RCCL) had written to Governor Boyd McCleary calling the process unfair and not transparent.
The letter was also copied to Mr. Mark Simmonds, Minister in the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office with responsibility for the Overseas Territories.
Governor McCleary has not spoken about the letter. The Opposition, Virgin Islands Party (VIP) had indicated plans to approach the Governor to launch a commission of inquiry into the project.
For its part, the Government has maintained that the bid process was fair and that no Government minister was involved.
Premier Smith had indicated that the process is being vetted by international specialists, including lawyers and account firms.
Asked about an audit which was conducted surrounding the project, Premier Smith had maintained that his administration did not order an audit.
Auditor General, Ms. Sonia Webster had confirmed that an audit had been done, but did not disclosed who ordered it and where the report was sent.
Premier Smith was asked about plans to make the audit report public. He indicated that making the report public is not a matter for him as he did not order the audit.
"If an audit was ordered and whoever did that wishes to make it public then so be it," Premier Smith said.
Who Was TPP
The area identified for development as pointed out in the document requesting persons to submit expressions of interest.
Last month, Dr. Smith administration revealed that affiliates and subsidiaries of the United States-based United Infrastructure Group (UIG) made up TPP.
Apart from the UIG companies, IDEA, which is based in Orlando, Florida with an office in the United Kingdom, is also a part of TPP.
The Premier's office also released individual names of TPP's representatives. Among them were two executives of IDEA, including Hugh Darley, President and Executive Producer of IDEA Inc and John Darley, Vice President, Chief Financial Officer.
Both have worked with the Disney company. Hugh is an ex-Disney Imagineer.
Mr. J. Todd Malphrus, who previously was identified as the Director of TPP, was still a representative negotiating a final agreement with Government. Malphrus is said to be connected to Malphrus International, a UIG company.
Another name listed as a TPP representative was Gregg Malphrus who was been identified as the Vice President & Business Manager at United International which is a member of the United Infrastructure Group.
UIG is said to be a general contractor, provides transportation construction and engineering services to private and public, and heavy/highway projects in the United States and the Caribbean.
The Premier's Office revealed that McAlpine, a UK company was expected to join the group and restated that Government had also secured participation and investment opportunities for Virgin Islanders to purchase up to 20 % shares.