Lt. Gov. Tregenza Roach on Tuesday, without identifying the company by name, called for a stop in negotiations with Avera, the startup company co-founded by Gov. Albert Bryan Jr.’s daughter Aliyah, and in line for a $1 million no-bid contract to provide contact tracing services to the V.I. Health Department.
Roach said he notified Bryan via letter following a Monday press briefing in which the governor said that he would “recuse” himself from signing off on the contract, citing a conflict of interest and noting that he would leave it up to Roach’s office.
Roach, however, said if the territory has $1 million at its disposal, that money should be directed to support existing government agencies such as the University of the Virgin Islands and the Bureau of Information Technology (BIT), which could work with the Health Department on contact tracing of COVID-19 cases.
“I will not execute a contract with a private vendor in that regard, unless I am convinced that resources already at our command, including valuable work already done by the Department of Health, cannot adequately address this need,” Roach wrote.
He added that if BIT, the university and Health cannot work together on contract tracing “… then we are literally up the proverbial creek without a paddle.”
Roach did not address the fact that as the lieutenant governor — and as the lieutenant governor candidate chosen by Bryan — signing off on the no-bid contract would also pose a conflict of interest.
On Tuesday, Government House spokesman Richard Motta Jr. said Roach was “well within his rights” to offer a different suggestion, but added that local government entities may not currently have the capacity to perform contact tracing in a short period of time.
“That’s the question — can they perform those tasks in the time required?” Motta asked.
Roach’s letter is the latest development in the ongoing drama surrounding Avera, which, for the past week, has landed the Bryan administration in hot water over a perceived conflict of interest.
Avera, which was one of three companies solicited by the Health Department, was reportedly the only one to respond, and is now in negotiations for a three-year, $998,000 contract to test out its contact tracing technology in the territory, according to Health officials.
The Daily News reported, however, that Avera, which was founded by Bryan’s former intern, Michael Pemberton, is a brand new company with no prior experience with contact tracing, fueling speculation that the company was deliberately favored by the administration — a claim that Bryan denies.
“I was not involved in the selection process at all, so it’s not a conflict of interest,” Bryan said Monday.
In a recent statement, Senate President Novelle Francis Jr. said the Legislature will hold a “fact-finding” Committee of the Whole hearing on Aug. 5 to probe government contracts linked to Bryan’s family and friends.