Minister of Public Works Desmond Bannister said yesterday he interfered politically with the board of Bahamas Power and Light (BPL) after he learned BPL had paid for the makeup bill of its now former chairperson, Darnell Osborne, and had paid for a security system for her house.
The makeup bill, The Nassau Guardian was told by inside BPL sources, came as a result of billing for a BPL-related photo shoot that involved Osborne as well as other company officials.
The Guardian also learned that the board approved the purchase of security cameras for the chairperson while BPL was in sensitive contract negotiations.
“I will admit to political interference in three respects,” Bannister told reporters outside Cabinet.
“I admit to political interference because it is my duty to ensure that what happens in BPL, and what happened in BPL under the former administration, does not happen again.
“And so, when issues that came up to me were important for me to deal with… [I] advised the board that they could not continue in that direction.
“An example, the chairman, Ms. Darnell Osborne, getting security system for her house and getting BPL to pay for it. That type of thing is wrong.
“It cannot be condoned, as a member of Parliament, as a minister, I cannot accept that type of thing.
“[For] Ms. Osborne to get someone to do her makeup and to give the bill to BPL in hundreds of dollars and ask BPL to pay for it, and in some instances BPL has paid for it, and BPL is going to have to account to me why they paid to go to her house [to] do her makeup.
“And there are many more bills that she has submitted like that, personal bills.
“I’ve authorized the CEO of BPL to provide it to the media, because you and the Bahamian people have to know this nonsense that has been going on, and we have to stop it. That is what I came to office for.”
BPL CEO Whitney Heastie could not be reached, despite numerous phone calls to him yesterday. He did not make anything public to support what Bannister told reporters.
Osborne said she will not make any more public comments on the BPL matter.
After months of reported tension within the board and the resignation of three of its members, the government asked the remaining board members to hand in their resignations last week.
The former board was made up of Osborne, Nick Dean, Nicola Thompson, Patrick Rollins, Ferron Bethel and Heastie.
Bannister said last week that relationships among the board members had significantly deteriorated, and they had locked horns on almost every critical issue at great cost to the company, which ultimately necessitated new leadership.
However, in a joint statement on Sunday, Osborne, Thompson and Dean called Bannister’s claim “untrue, inaccurate and misleading” and said it was “political interference” and a “continuous disrespect” toward Osborne that were at the root of the former board’s dysfunction.
While he never fully elaborated on what he meant by the board costing the company because of its inability to make decisions on “every critical issue”, Bannister yesterday pointed to one instance of the board being locked with respect to buying parts for a generator.
He noted that BPL has a generator that has been sitting unused since May 30, which requires parts that cost several million dollars.
He said Heastie located those parts, but was unable to order them because of the issues with the former board.
“All of you will notice that there are three persons who sent this letter out,” Bannister added.
“The other three persons are still involved with BPL.
“They were so annoyed by what was going on that all of them tendered their resignations.
“They resigned out of integrity and honor. They weren’t going to let it happen.
“These are the kinds of things I think the public ought to be aware of that we are getting this right, and I am not going to tolerate any of these kinds of things that are going on.”
Bannister on Friday announced the new board with Dr. Donovan Moxey serving as the chairman, Stephen Holowesko as the deputy chairman and James Moss, Debra Wood, Ferron Bethel and Viana Gardiner as its remaining members.
Rollins was recently appointed by Bannister as BPL’s new executive director, replacing Deepak Bhatnagar.
“That was a post that the chair constantly asked me to appoint her to; to such an extent that in December, she and Ms. Thompson provided me with proposals to pay [Osborne] $300,000 to be executive director,” Bannister further claimed yesterday.
“I still have that in writing.
“These are the type of personal things that I have to admit political interference with, because I told them what the salary would be for her, and it was not going to be anything close to that.
“I am not going to pay the Bahamian people’s money for that type of thing.
“So I want everybody to be aware that, when they make allegations of political interference, it is political interference of that nature that I described, that I’m not going to let the money of the Bahamian people and the funds of BPL to be wasted and be used in those circumstances.
“I regret that I have to say these types of things, but that is my public duty to the Bahamian people.”
Bannister did not make public the proposals he claimed were made to pay Osborne $300,000.
The minister said, as far as he is concerned, he has not overstepped his boundaries.
Bannister retorted that it was Osborne who overstepped her boundaries, often trying to do the work of the CEO.
“There’s a chair for BPL, and there’s a CEO,” he said.
“The CEO is responsible for operations in that organization.
“It cannot be that the chair seeks to take over the job as the CEO, as Ms. Osborne has tried from time and time again. It cannot be.
“Mr. Whitney Heastie is very capable of doing what he is assigned to do, and Mr. Heastie is doing a great job.
“He is to report to the board and the question of the manner in which he does his job is to be evaluated by the board.
“The chair does not take over the duties of the CEO.”
Education: Vrije Universiteit Brussel (University of Brussels), MA in Mass Communications