BVI News

BVI Airways partners were decent people — Former FS Neil Smith

Neil Smith is a former Financial Secretary under the previous NDP government.

Former Financial Secretary (FS) Neil Smith said he was convinced the BVI’s investment partners in the planned BVI Airways initiative were decent people.

This conviction likely helped to pave the way for his nod of approval to former Premier Dr Orlando Smith to move forward with the multi-million-dollar deal with the airline.

The deal saw the National Democratic Party (NDP) administration dumping 7.2 million of taxpayer dollars into BVI Airways to facilitate direct flights between the BVI and Miami, USA back in 2016.

The former Financial Secretary said he was the one charged with the responsibility of doing any due diligence on the parties involved.

FS Smith told the ongoing Commission of Inquiry (COI) that generally, agreements were only actually inked after airlines were in operation.

However, he described the situation for the then government as a “chicken and egg scenario” whereby they wouldn’t get an interline agreement if they wouldn’t operate, and couldn’t operate if they didn’t have interline agreement.

Verbal agreements and trust between parties

He further expressed that the administration was “pretty confident” at the time that they would have the interline agreements in place.

According to FS Smith, “there were verbal contracts”. 

“Let me put it that way … were actually engaged in these interline agreements, you know, for purposes of having a verbal agreement, it was just trust between parties, I guess,” said FS Smith who is a trained engineer, among other things.

Although the parties were headed toward a framework agreement subsequently, FS Smith told the COI he decided against bringing any other consultants on board because he had confidence in his ability to “assess these things” because of his background.

He explained that this was not just his financial acumen, but also his academic training and experience with the Ministry of Finance where he had served for years as the Financial Secretary.

“Mathematics is something that we like, engineers like, and the finance acumen on top of that helps, so I had a pretty good understanding of how the model is created and how to apply sensitivity testing – to stress-test the models,” FS Smith said.

He continued: “You know, I had done them before or in [the] Electricity [Corportation]. I had done things like this — not with aeroplanes but with models that you use to make financial projections and also in that case in the BVI Electricity to make projections on load and share and stuff like that, so I was pretty confident in the mathematics.”

Smith said he concluded – after consultations with BVI Port Authority members – that it also wasn’t necessary at the time to incur additional costs to tell him something he had already figured out, hence there was no need for extra consultants.

Due diligence done on world search

The former Financial Secretary told the COI that he used World-Check — a financial services investigation tool to look into several of the individuals behind BVI Airways and assured himself that they were appropriate individuals to undertake the venture.

Some of those individuals included Colchester Aviation chairman, Scott Weisman; Lester Hyman; Bruce Bradley; and Chief Executive Officer and President of the airline, Jerry Willoughby.

“I investigated via the internet, I should say, on the workings of Mr Bradley, [and I] was aware of his strong business acumen, the concerns that he had, and concerns [and] enterprises that he had engaged in,” FS Smith explained.

He said he also looked at Weisman, who at the time was a member of a bar association and found there were no existing concerns for either of the two gentlemen.

“All of those things concerned convinced me they were decent people to work with,” FS Smith declared. 

“Mostly, it had to do with [me being satisfied] there were no concerns based on my investigations. So World-Check and, number two, because of the demonstrated business acumen that he had,” he further explained.

Smith said he was not concerned that Hyman — whom the administration had worked with previously, and who brokered the airline deal — may have had a conflict of interest.

According to FS Smith, the major part of the airline was running the business. “So, if you’re a good businessman or you have a proven track record of dealing with businesses and making investments, then you have the skills to have a successful venture,” he explained.

The former Financial Secretary, however, conceded that it was concerning that the astute businessmen were not willing to sign up to a framework agreement that incorporated in writing their indication to post $6 million of their own funds into the venture.

The government recently won an arbitration against the company after it was sued for $10 million. The arbitrator reportedly rejected all claims BVI Airways Inc and Colchester Aviation LLC made against the Government of the Virgin Islands.

 The government is now trying to recoup the $7.2 million spent on the airline.

Neil shouldn’t carry all the blame! Pickering defends former FS about BVI Airways

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30 Comments

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  1. LMAO says:

    He meant “Well spoken WHITE people!”

    A local group with the same background and presentation would have NEVER EVER gotten that $7 mil, NEVER! No shame!

    Like 23
    Dislike 6
    • Say what? says:

      “Decent people?” All he had to do was to Google their names to see that they were engaged in a similar scam in New York where they took millions from investors but the plan never took off. He should be held responsible for not conducting any due dilly. Who received their “finder’s fees?”

      • My Word says:

        I, me, myself, no committee, no need for consult, no need for even a pre agreement. No need for any checks by a team, about a 7.5 million dollars of the local people’s tax money. We’re talking about an entire construction and operation of an airline company. To believe this is okay, to speak so off the cuff with the COI. The COI must also be LTAO. This is below elementary thinking from any engineer. And you tout some off the cuff references about your experience and education. And what makes cronyism okay? Again without consulting the law, again disregarding law to enrich your ego again?

    • LMAO2 says:

      A valid question would be why didn’t a “local group” come up with the money and try to get the venture off the ground? Oh yeah I think one group did, was it the white man who shut him down? Think not!

    • What says:

      Why do you assume a local group is not white? Surely the BVI welcomes diversity right?

  2. Resident says:

    Why after the storms did you authorize them full payment even though they hadn’t fulfilled their end if the agreement

    Like 18
    • Really? says:

      Please stop talking nonsense. That money was paid out long before the storms. Neil wasn’t even FS when Irma hit.

      Like 1
      Dislike 5
      • Resident says:

        That is even worse, we gave them money way before they had even attempted to deliver anything

        • fowl foot says:

          According to information a team was sent to investigate this company before .this team either was blind deaf or dumm. from what i read these guys for this so call air line was stealing from each other. They guys even offer to punch each other out and we send poots in boots to investigate them what a shame.

          • Get your facts straight says:

            That was the previous BVI Airways. Not the one the government gave money to. That bad actor was well gone by then

  3. Ahem says:

    Every successful con artist appears decent at first blush.

    Like 12
    Dislike 2
  4. Rubber Duck says:

    Doc Smith and his namesake Neil, put their faith in the long time ( paid ) representative of the BVI in Washington ,Lester Hyman, who as it turns out , was also being paid $200,000 by the other side.

    Mr Hyman , when asked about this said that he had forgotten that he had received $100,000 from them and was due another $100,000.

    Well you would wouldn’t you.

    • Cato says:

      How old is Lester again? no one in their right mind will not engage a lawyer that old if he/she wants results. No matter the experiencer, its time to start forgetting, so I well believe he forgot.

  5. Really? says:

    Please stop talking nonsense. That money was paid out long before the storms. Neil wasn’t even FS when Irma hit.

  6. Wow says:

    What a set of naive educated people got conned
    By appearance and false personas.
    Seems like taking candy from a baby. My oh my!

    Like 15
  7. COMMON SENSE ALONE says:

    IF YOU GOING TO BUSINESS WITH SOMBODY AND YOU BOTH COME UP WITH A PLAN AND YOU COME FORWARD WITH YOUR END AND THE OTHER DON’T COME FORWARD WITH THEIRS AS WAS PLANNED / THAT ALONE SHOULD RAISE A RED FLAG US ITS TAXPAYERS $$$$ AND NOT A SIGNED DOCUMENT / AM NOT AS EDUCATED AS YOU SO I USE COMMON SENSE

  8. What? says:

    I doubt that the then FS spoke to the BVI Port Authority about this venture. Another incidence of the press not getting their facts straight. I think a suit might be coming soon…

  9. Hmm says:

    I’m not an engineer, mathematician, pilot etc etc but I could tell you that I would not have let that deal go through. Googling them on the internet was not enough honey. Sorry…

  10. Concerned inteests says:

    After reading these posts for many years, it is a shame no one has asked the people that worked for BVI Airways, what they think went wrong.

    As a past manager at BVI Airways, I can tell you that it was not all as reported. While I think that the startup could have been planned and implemented, there are many factors when it comes to starting and airline. From, training, to regulations to maintenance to logistics and hiring etc. Each piece must play a part of the puzzle and each must be complete or no airline.

    Many of our staff gave, up their jobs and lives relocated to the BVI in the hope of a successful venture that not only made money but also benefited it’s customers and made their lives easier.

    Whilst the original budget was sorely underestimated, what ultimately contributed to the demise of the venture was the difficulty of navigating both the slow moving and bureaucratic government organs being the BVI government and the insanely inefficient British sub regulator Air Safety Support International. Working with both these, matters that should have taken a couple of days stretched into weeks and months. All the time while we had to meet salaries and other high cost overheads.

    I can say that I knew all the team and owners very well. All were experienced, hard working and enthusiastic about the venture. We were all focused on one thing and that was to get those birds in the air and make BVI Proud.

    And we almost did it to. We trained a score of flight crew, hired qualified and experienced people all over the world as well as any BVI locals who met the requirements. We organized two planes to be delivered along with completing the insanely tedious requirements of registering them in the BVI. ASSI fought us at every stage. We brought in maintenance personal and tooling, set up hangers established the complex web of companies and personal to support the international operations. We created an airline with active jets and regulatory approval for all our operations. 9 of 10 airlines do not make it past certification. We did. We did it with our heads held high and legally and transparently.

    For whatever reason above my pay grade we ran out of money. Maybe the budget wasn’t enough to start off with or maybe we should have factored in the continual governmental roadblocks and delays in getting established.

    What I can say, is that we were honest and hardworking and most of the people we felt with in the government were also honest and helpful. The airlines failed, in doing so we all failed.

    What’s being portrayed in the media to this day is so full of fantasies and lies it’s obvious that this whole affair is being used for political gain with all of us just the pawns including this papers readers.

    Always two sides to every story

    Like 11
    Dislike 1
    • Thank you says:

      Seems that everyone would be complicit in these hand shakes for such a big adventure as you say. Does the crime in every sector of the BVI ever end. I would like to build a home there. Wow it is all so sad. And this read is without any understanding or remorse from this single human who truly and arrogantly decides he is the only person in the e BVI who is as capable. Where did he get his degrees? I think this is the best example of cronyism and dictatorship yet. Show the children.

      Like 3
      Dislike 3
  11. MY TAKE says:

    HOW I SEE IT, THE GOV’T HAD MONEY TO PUT UP FRONT.THE OTHER SIDE WAS BROKE’S.

    • Also... says:

      Seems like Airline group genuinely underestimated the cost and timeline of establishing something as important and regulated like this airline business. This is surprising as it is most likely the same all over the world. I would speculate that conversations from BVI negotiators were something along the lines of “no problem, it will get done quickly…” etc. What a shame for all parties as well as potential BVI passengers. Airline didn’t budget enough funds and Govt most likely didn’t communicate clearly or thoroughly.

      • Concerned interests says:

        I have worked with setting ip airlines all over the world, including africa, canada, europe and the US.

        I would say that the budget for setting in the BVI was about 20-30% under budget. That contributed to it. You are correct with some of the negotiations.

        However, the BVI is in a unique position, both dealing with the local government, their regulations and needs, and dealing with a distant entity being ASSI makes the BVI very unique.

        Have you asked yourself, why most other countries regionally have large airlines, but the BVI doesn’t? BVI has its own challenges that no one is addressing

  12. Deh Watcha says:

    Always remember that, A local QC lawyer once said that the Biwater deal, was a deal to good to be true.

    So it does not surprise me if he is thinking this way.

  13. Truth says:

    How much was did the accounting/auditing fiem.direct receive for his role? Svhool children said he got his residency. What about Rotary making him Assistant Governor? So much for their own credibility

  14. FS says:

    Mr. Young Smith you were in over your head.

  15. Keep Making it Worse says:

    How much is Martin Kenney milking this thing for? Does he think he can manufacture another R V?

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