Testifying before the ongoing Commission of Inquiry (CoI) on Monday, October 11, Premier Fahie explained that it was at the former Premier's Office, that he met Skelton Cline for the first and it was there that he heard about the now controversial Neighbourhood Partnership Project (NPP) which was designed that focused on youth.
Hon. Fahie, who was the Education and Culture Minister at the time of the project, told the CoI, that when the NPP was introduced in 2008, the BVI needed the intervention. He told the Commission that while he terminated the contract because of the lack of progress reports, he was not involved to any great extent.
“During that time, we had a lot of issues with young people with gangs beginning to form in the country, and we were having a lot of gang fights in schools. We had even formed an alliance with the USVI because they had also helped by sending some of their expertise over here to speak to the children and to help us deal with some of the problems that we are experiencing.”
He continued: “So the climate at the time was one in which there was a need to address some of the concerns that were happening in the territory where especially our young people were going down in the wrong direction. It wasn’t in isolation that the Premier [O'Neal] had to get something done.”
Counsel to the CoI Mr. Bilal Rawat, then asked him if he had any meetings with Skelton Cline on the initiative.
He replied, that there was a presentation done by Skelton Cline to members of the House of Assembly.
“All I remember during that presentation was Mr. Skelton Cline appeared to have considerable and impressive experience in the USA in initiating and managing projects aimed at turning around the lives of alienated and vulnerable young people. At that time, the Virgin Islands was experiencing such a growing problem with our youth and it had become a permanent political issue.”
He informed that Premier, the late O’Neal subsequently informed him that he wished to engage the services of Skelton Cline for the NPP.
“I believe the ministry officials then negotiated and drew up the contract, and those officials knew that the initiative and the engagement had come from the Premier and they would report directly to the Premier’s Office about it. I had very little if any involvement in those negotiations. I believe that all the details of the contract was submitted to the Premier’s Office for approval," he said.
Premier Fahie added, "I did not sign the contracts, and I left the matter entirely to my officials. Once the contract was signed by the then Premier, I was called upon in the initial stages to help publicize the project to the churches, and I attended one or two early meetings for that purpose."
He also informed the CoI that most likely the late former Premier O’Neal would have signed all contracts associated with Mr. Skelton Cline and if he didn’t sign, he would have given the authority to the Permanent Secretary to sign on his behalf on rare occasions, “but not the minister.”
The Territory’s leader said early on, he did not recall gaining any impressions that the project had encountered problems.
However, during the latter part of the project, he started hearing murmurings in some quarters, including in the House of Assembly, about their level of frustration with the said project.
He said this prompted him to ask for progress reports when he was informed that no reports had been given by Mr. Skelton Cline for some time. Despite his request for reports, none were received from Mr. Skelton Cline.
He said he then had a conversation with the then Premier about his difficulties, and he later opted to terminate the contract.
He also said the programme suffered because of politics, but he admitted that it was a good programme.
The contract ended in 2010, and the government paid out $571,800 in several installments, and in a leaked Auditor General report, several flaws where identified including poor execution and lack of reporting on what was achieved, given the expenditure.