wico

What would you do if you owned a company and your highly paid top decision-makers lost the company’s biggest contract, costing you $5 million in annual revenue and forcing you to lay off a large number of employees?

To make matters worse, what if their strategy failures landed your company in potentially disastrous lawsuits?

And if that’s not bad enough, what if those decision-makers failed to pay the company’s taxes, leaving you with a $7 million bill?

Your company is WICO, the West Indian Co., and its leadership has done this for you.

• The Government Employees Retirement System has ended WICO’s contract to run Havensight Mall because revenues have plunged at the rate of $3 million a year under WICO’s management, for which GERS was paying WICO $5 million a year.

• WICO is embroiled with privately owned Yacht Haven Grande in a lawsuit and countersuit over constructing a megaship dock. The legal melee not only will cost WICO huge legal fees, it also will cost the territory precious time that’s needed to expand cruise ship docking capacity. While our Caribbean competitors are racing ahead of us to attract more and bigger ships, WICO is bogged down in a court fight that could drag on for years.

• WICO board members have failed to pay $7 million in taxes that the company owes the government — yet these same board members collectively take home approximately $112,000 a year for showing up at meetings.

Members of WICO’s Governing Board are paid $1,500 every time the board meets, and the chairman of the board is paid $2,000 each time.

Why?

The chairman, Joseph Boschulte, who already collects $105,000 a year as Tourism Commissioner, has sought to justify the exorbitant board stipends as a “tradition” that goes back to the days of Danish rule.

Lest we forget, Denmark was the colonial owner of the Virgin Islands for more than 200 years. That ended in 1917, and Danish private ownership of WICO ended in 1993, when the V.I. government bought the company.

Citing a tradition tainted by memories of colonial days certainly is not persuasive, but that’s the only excuse that Boschulte has come up with for paying the board members a stipend that is 19 times higher than members of other government boards receive.

And even if the tradition were worth keeping, it cannot supersede V.I. law, which caps the pay at $75 per meeting for government board members.

Can anything be done to change WICO’s course?

Yes, and Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. identified the solution during his political campaign when he promised to merge WICO and the V.I. Port Authority which, as he observed, are “two different government agencies who are often in competition for the same cruise traffic.”

Elaborating on the promise, Bryan’s platform stated forthrightly: “WICO is currently a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Public Finance Authority. This ownership interest should be transferred to the Port Authority. Merge WICO with the Port Authority.”

Very simply, the merger is a common sense move that would eliminate redundancy, inefficiency and duplication of costs.

And just as simply, this is the time to do it. The Port Authority has the dock in Crown Bay. WICO has the dock in Havensight. But neither has any ships right now because of the coronavirus moratorium.

This is a clear opportunity for Governor Bryan to deliver on a campaign promise.

Stop the waiting. Start the doing.