Saturday, Nov 17, 2018

A NEW LOW

Minister gets petty as public left in dark
Desmond Bannister and Darnell Osborne.

Matters have gotten really nasty and explosive at Bahamas Power and Light (BPL), descending to an unfortunate low.

There is a real sense that since the Minnis administration came to office promising renewed focus on the power company, it has taken a couple steps forward, but quite a few back.

On one side is Minister of Public Works Desmond Bannister, who has made seriously petty claims against the now former chairperson of the board, Darnell Osborne, including a bizarre claim that her makeup bill is one of the reasons for the unfortunate turn of events that led to the board being dismissed.

On the other side is Osborne, a respected chartered accountant who, along with two former board members — Nicola Thompson and Nick Dean — wrote a joint statement dismissing a claim made by the minister last week that the board
had been in dispute on just about every major issue at BPL, costing the company greatly.

They called this claim “untrue, inaccurate and misleading”.

Instead of refuting their statement in a substantive fashion, Bannister refused to provide details on what the board members were at odds over. We still do not understand why the government moved abruptly to dissolve the board.

We suppose that as members of the public, it is just none of our business.

The minister said that out of respect for the former board members “I do not intend to discuss this matter in any further detail”.

But what about respect for the public and its right to know? Where exactly is the transparency promised by the Minnis administration?

Osborne, Thompson and Dean said it was really political interference that was at the heart of the board’s troubles.

In a stunning statement to reporters yesterday, Bannister said he interfered politically after he found out that Osborne had spent (so he claimed) BPL money on makeup and a security system for her home.

“I will admit to political interference in three respects,” the minister told reporters.

“I admit to political interference because it is my duty to ensure that what happened at BPL, and what happened at BPL under the former administration, does not happen again. So when issues that came up to me were important for me to deal with and to advise the board that they could not continue in that direction [that is what I did].

“An example, the chairperson, Mrs. Darnell Osborne, getting a security system for her house and getting BPL to pay for
it. That type of thing is wrong, cannot be condoned. As a member of Parliament and as a minister, I cannot accept that type of thing. Mrs. Osborne gets someone to do her makeup and give the bill to BPL, hundreds of dollars, and asks BPL to pay for it, and in some instances, BPL has paid for it.

“BPL is going to have to account to me why they paid to go to her house and do her makeup, and there are many more bills that she has submitted like that — personal bills.”

From the explanation provided by the minister thus far, the BPL board was dismissed because he discovered the company had paid the chairperson’s makeup bill and installed security cameras at her house.

Reportedly, the board approved the installation of cameras during the sensitive period of contract tendering. Since he has put this information out there, in the interest of full transparency, the minister should make public the board’s discussion on this matter so we all have a full understanding about why this decision was made.

It could very well be that we are only hearing half the story.

Bannister seems to be suggesting that BPL picked up Osborne’s makeup bill on the regular, or was he referring to a photo shoot that involved the BPL chairperson and others, which promoted the company?

Is he so petty to raise the matter of a $45 makeup bill for Osborne for a photo shoot related to her role as chairperson?

This is incredible. It is low and it is seedy.

No abuse of public funds — no matter how small — ought to be allowed, but if the makeup bill and the security cameras did in fact constitute an abuse — and we have no information that they did — then surely those matters were not enough
to cause things to get to this stage.

How simple-minded does the minister think we are?

If the government determined there was something inappropriate about paying for Osborne’s makeup for a shoot that featured BPL’s first female chairperson, and if it determined that paying for her security improvements was inappropriate, then why remove the other board members?

Meat and potatoes

In his statement last week, Bannister said three members of the board offered their resignations, and in those circumstances, it was important to seek new leadership. Again, it is unclear what specifically led to those resignations.

Bannister claimed Osborne submitted other “personal bills” to BPL. What bills is he talking about? Where is the evidence of this? It is not enough to throw out this unsubstantiated claim.

He also claimed that Osborne made a proposal to him “to pay her $300,000 to be the executive director”. He said he has that in writing. Perhaps he will make it public.

If there was such a proposal, questions need to be asked whether a $300,000 pack- age for the post is reasonable, and whether making this request (if it was made) was damaging to BPL and its operations.

What is the value of the package of the current executive director?

All we have heard from the minister thus far is pettiness and vague statements about what has led BPL to get to this point.

Critical issues have gone unanswered. The public has not heard anything on the meat-and-potatoes matters.

If the board “remained locked at loggerheads with respect to virtually every critical issue”, which “became costly to BPL”, then that needs to be fully explained. What are these issues? What was the cost to BPL over the alleged disputes among board members?

Where is the explanation regarding decisions with respect to requests for proposals for short-term power generation and supply of fuel oils and concerns presented by the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers’ Confederation about the handling of that matter? Were board members at odds over this critical matter? If so, why?

What were the issues that arose that caused the CEO of the Utilities Regulation and Competition Authority (URCA) to write the chairperson on July 30 and express concerns about a reported “lack of responsiveness by BPL” to requests from URCA for information required to exercise and perform its functions and powers in accordance with the provisions of the Electricity Act and the URCA Act?

Again, there is need for full transparency.

Bannister is seeking to focus attention on the former chairperson in a most unsettling way.

It is clear that something stinks in the midst of all of this. There are many rumors swirling out there, but not nearly enough facts being presented.

At the center is a public that has suffered a great deal as a result of a failing power grid and promises of an improved electricity supply that have gone unfulfilled.

The board has been replaced; confidence has been eroded in those responsible for BPL and many are deeply worried about the company’s instability and chaotic direction.

Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis promised to be distinctly different from the PLP, which he criticized so self-righteously. So far, BPL now looks a lot like BPL then.

And the powers that be are acting in the same arrogant and secretive fashion that so angered the people that they chased them out of office in dramatic fashion.

The public does not need to be left guessing on matters as important as the operations of its power company.

The time has long passed for Bannister to present a full reporting on the facts. The minister’s handling of this matter has come across as immature and counter to the kind of governance the Minnis administration had promised.

Telling us about the chairman’s make- up bill is not the explanation we have been waiting for.

It is trivial with a taint of sexism.

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