Stuart caught in the middle of bitter sugar dispute between Estwick and Chris
The swords have been drawn and the rift between two senior ministers in the Freundel Stuart Cabinet has reached boiling point, with outspoken Minister of Agriculture Dr David Estwick now calling on the Prime Minister to move against Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler.
But so far Estwick’s demands have been met with silence, with sources suggesting that Stuart, who is currently in Cuba attending the Fifth CARICOM-Cuba Summit, still hopeful the matter can simmer down.
In a strongly worded letter to the Prime Minister last month, Estwick stopped just short of calling for Sinckler’s head on the proverbial platter or for him to be fired as Minister of Finance.
However, the Minister of Agriculture did suggest that Sinckler should be both “reprimanded and charged”, after stating that Cabinet had been misled on the proposed US$250 million Barbados Cane Industry Restructuring Project (BCIRP).
Barbados TODAY has obtained a copy of the seven-page letter to Stuart, dated November 17, 2014, in which Estwick listed nine areas, which he said were “inaccurately” presented to Cabinet.
It follows what inside sources say was a “very robust” Cabinet session on November 13, in which Estwick did not hide his feelings about his Government’s handling of the sugar revival proposal. In fact, the former economic affairs minister bitterly complained in his letter to Stuart that he was asked at short notice by the Prime Minister to give an update on the contentious BCIRP, without having prior notice so he could adequately prepare.
On the other hand, Estwick said it appeared as if the Minister of Finance was “apprised” since he came prepared with “a Ministry file in hand” from which he spoke to a memorandum of understanding between Inter-Sugar Partnership, the current negotiators of the half a billion dollar sugar restructuring loan, and Marubeni, the Japanese concern that was originally scheduled to finance the restructuring project but later pulled out.
However, in his letter Estwick told the Prime Minister that in order to protect the integrity of his ministry, the Barbados Agricultural Management Company (BAMC) and the Barbados Cane Industry Corporation (BCIC), he was providing him with enough supporting documentary evidence to rebut a number of the claims made at the November 13th meeting.
Sinckler and Estwick have been at odds in recent times over a proposal to have the St Lucia-registered ISP negotiate the multi million-dollar sugar loan through the US-based National Standard Finance (NSF) for the restructuring project.
Describing the entire episode as “depressing”, Estwick was at pains to point out to the Prime Minister that the BCIRP proposal, which was at the time before the Ministry of Finance. was not a debt offer, but an equity investment.
“It has nothing to do with the MOU between ISP and Marubeni,” said Estwick, who also summed up the November 13 discussion as not only a “brave attempt to mislead and confuse the Cabinet but also as “diabolical and laughable”.
Estwick also sought to warn the Prime Minister that “no minister should be allowed to deliberately mislead the Cabinet of Barbados, saying such would constitute a “grievous offence” for which the offending minister should be seriously “reprimanded and charged”.
Estwick ended his letter to the prime minister by putting him on notice that “this is the last time I will raise this matter with you”.
“I have written to you twice regarding matters of this nature and I want to give you every opportunity to define the authority of the Cabinet. I have no intention to continue to serve in a Cabinet where its instructions to ministers and ministries are not carried out with fidelity,” the outspoken St. Philip West MP declared.
Barbados TODAY understands that the proposal to fund the Barbados Cane Industry Restructuring Project of which Estwick has been complaining, is now before Cabinet for consideration.
In his November letter to Stuart, Estwick complained that the proposal had been before the Ministry of Finance for the past three months.
When contacted, Minister Sinckler was unavailable for comment, but a source within his ministry told Barbados TODAY that Government could not afford to rush into any arrangement since there was simply too much at stake.