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Payout demands over BPL firing

Former Bahamas Power and Light (BPL) Executive Chairperson Darnell Osborne is seeking an apology from Minister of Public Works Desmond Bannister, more than $80,000 for “defaming” her and compensation for her “wrongful” dismissal.

In a letter to Bannister, dated October 25, Osborne’s attorney, Alfred Sears, QC, wrote that her termination was in breach of the Electricity Act, the rules of natural justice and was without reasonable cause.

The letter states that Bannister made several false and defamatory comments about Osborne which have injured her personal and professional reputation and caused her to suffer considerable distress and embarrassment.

“Mrs. Osborne was wrongfully removed or constructively dismissed from the board of BPL, and she is thereby entitled to be compensated for salary and benefit due to her for the remaining four years under her five years fixed-term appointment to the board of BPL,” it adds.

“The publication of your defamatory comments about Mrs. Osborne in several national newspapers over the past several months entitle Mrs. Osborne to claim far more than the $80,000 awarded to Lady Sharon Wilson.”

The letter was referring to a 2003 defamation suit in which Lady Wilson was awarded $80,000.

“We ask that you reconsider your comments and actions in this matter and issue a comprehensive written retraction and apology to Mrs. Osborne and compensate her for the contract damages for which she is entitled,” the letter states.

“Should we not hear from you within seven days of the date of this letter, we are under firm instructions to commence action against you in the Supreme Court of The Bahamas, without further notice. We trust that you will see the wisdom in avoiding costly and unnecessary litigation.”

Osborne and three other members of the board were fired in August, after Bannister said board members were locked at loggerheads on almost every critical issue. He said this was a great cost to BPL.

The fallout from the dismissal led to a nasty public spat between the former chairperson and the minister.

Retaliation

According to the letter, Osborne was appointed BPL chairperson on July 1, 2017 for a fixed term of five years. She was appointed executive chairperson on January 5, 2018.

The letter says the board operated smoothly, but “it appears to our client that you adopted a hostile attitude towards her, beginning in May 2018, with respect to the independence that she manifested on several issues before the board”.

It adds that this hostility stemmed from four issues: The proposed Shell North America (Shell NA) Power Purchase Agreement; BPL CEO Whitney Heastie’s power to exclusively hire and fire BPL employees without board approval; the appointment of Hugh Patrick Rollins as BPL executive director without board consultation and Osborne’s insistence that BPL receive outside legal counsel before she sign the Shell NA memorandum of understanding (MOU).

Regarding the Shell MOU, the letter states, “In response to this position, Executive Director Rollins sent Mrs. Osborne (who was in Canada on holiday with her family at the time) an email on July 26, 2018 communicating that you had issued a ministerial direction that Mrs. Osborne sign the MOU by the end of that day. Mrs. Osborne responded on Sunday, July 29, 2018 insisting that she would sign off on the MOU only after it was reviewed by outside counsel.”

In retaliation against Mrs. Osborne’s “independence and fidelity to her fiduciary obligations to BPL” Bannister took a number of actions, the letter claims.

“On Friday, August 3, 2018, you summoned Mrs. Osborne to your office and criticized her leadership style,” the letter states.

“On Sunday, August 5, 2018 the honorable prime minister summoned Mrs. Osborne to his office to discuss the concerns at BPL. At the end of the meeting, the prime minister told Mrs. Osborne that she should stay put.

“On Tuesday, August 14, 2018, you summoned the BPL board to your office and announced that three members of BPL’s board, namely Messrs. Whitney Heastie, Hugh Patrick Rollins and Ferron Bethell had resigned and that the prime minister had asked for the resignation of Mrs. Osborne, Mrs. Nicola Thompson and Mr. Nick Dean; thereby creating the pressure for constructive dismissal (Mr. Dean was not at the meeting, as he was out of the country).

“Mrs. Osborne and Directors Nick Dean and Nicola Thompson never received any written communication requesting their dismissal, no written reason for their dismissal has been provided, nor did they submit written resignations.

“In fact, Mrs. Osborne only learned about the appointment of the new board of BPL on Friday, August 17, 2018, when she was sent a WhatsApp message by a reporter from one of the local newspapers who wanted her response to her dismissal and the new appointments.

“We are instructed that on the following day Prime Minister Hubert Minnis telephoned Mrs. Osborne and apologized to her for the matters that had transpired with the BPL board and advised Mrs. Osborne that she would be appointed as director of Inland Revenue and that the acting financial secretary, Mr. Marlon Johnson, would be calling her over the next few days.”

Minnis promised to launch a probe into the events that unfolded at BPL. However, it is unclear if the probe has started.

Shortly after Bannister announced the dissolution of the board in August, Osborne, Dean and Thompson fired back, claiming that “political interference” and a “continuous disrespect” toward the executive chairperson were at the root of the former board’s dysfunction.

In response, Bannister admitted that there was political interference, but claimed it was after he learned BPL paid for a makeup bill and a home security system for Osborne. He also claimed that Osborne requested a salary of $300,000.

Osborne denied the assertions. She later resigned as a member of the Free National Movement.

Assistant Editor at The Nassau Guardian
Travis Cartwright-Carroll is the assistant editor. He covers a wide range of national issues. He joined The Nassau Guardian in 2011 as a copy editor before shifting to reporting. He was promoted to assistant news editor in December 2018.
Education: College of The Bahamas, English
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