When we are the butt of the mirth
The righteous indignation often expressed by politicians over the deeds or misdeeds of their political colleagues could provide ready material for Laff-it-Off or some other comedic entertainment.
Of course, most of the time the jokes are really on John Public, even if in our frequently rabid political polarized state we do not accept such is the case. During the rule of both political parties – the Barbados Labour Party and Democratic Labour Party – there have been occurrences worthy of both administrative and criminal investigation.
Of course, unlike some other jurisdictions where transparency, checks and balances are guaranteed by the clout of legal processes, as well as the consciousness of the people, Barbados tends to be a nation where sound and fury are temporary, and nothingness is the order of things.
The latest furore is over the Guernsey-based Cahill Energy agreement with the Barbados Government to build and operate a plasma gasification waste-to-energy facility in Barbados. Opposition Leader Mia Mottley has seized on the issue, as any good leader should, and has been making a major song and dance about the proposed multi-million-dollar project.
She has questioned the transparency of the deal; the significant state outlay; environmental issues; and the ability of Barbados to fund the project; among other concerns. The recent 2015-2016 Financial and Budgetary Statement provided good theatre with both parties postulating on the pros and cons of the project.
But what really is new beyond this opportunistic politicking? Have we travelled this road before? And what can we do to avoid such controversies?
About a decade ago the then Owen Arthur administration hired Veco USA Incorporated to construct Her Majesty’s Prisons, Dodds. Interestingly, 13 Barbadian companies had joined forces and made a bid to construct the prison. Not only did the local conglomerate fail to get the project, the agreement with Veco to build the prison was, according to Prime Minister Arthur, finally signed off in his absence while he was overseas. It is worthy to note that some years later some of the principals of Veco landed in United States prisons for fraud.
More than a decade ago Government entered into a deal with a company called Structural Steel Solutions to build eight overpass bridges. On October 12, 2005, then Minister of Public Works Gline Clarke said a memorandum had been signed with the company the month before. He placed a price tag on the project of $120 million and noted this was for installation of overpass bridges, widening of sections of the highway, supply and installation of a traffic signal synchronisation system, and completion of a Bridgetown traffic study review.
On July 22, 2006, during the breaking of the sod at Warrens, St Michael to start the project, Clarke said the cost had increased to $140 million. Then, officials of the company revealed that costs had increased threefold because of unforeseen circumstances. It was subsequently discovered that there was no contract between Government and the company to do any work. Two years later, as if following a familiar script, Jonathan Laszlo Danos, head of Structural Steel Solutions, was one of four defendants facing legal action in a British High Court on allegations of fraud and conspiracy related to a construction project initiated in Jamaica in 2002.
There have over the years been similar questionable projects initiated by dubious characters on behalf of various governments. We have had contracts awarded to persons – without qualified expertise – to remove asbestos roofing from housing estates despite the objections of the National Housing Corporation; and monies paid in full for work not done.
We have had a contract awarded to a sewerage disposal company – without a history in construction – to build a police station at Crab Hill, St Lucy. That company has been paid in full for botched work and work never completed.
From CARSICOT to Greenland; to the Bridgetown Pierhead Marina Project; to Hardwood; to GEMS; to million dollar pavilions and million dollar golden showers; the history of politics in Barbados is often one of putrid opportunism, even in the face of the excellent work which both the DLP and BLP have done in fostering the development of the island.
Auditor General Leigh Trotman is on record as stating that the Director of Public Prosecution, the Public Accounts Committee and the Director of Finance have the authority to bring people to account where there is evidence of wastage or dubious usage of state funds. He explained that sometimes these agencies “do not work properly” and it was frustrating. Trotman was being very charitable when he said “sometimes they do not work properly”.
Unfulfilled promises by politicians to introduce integrity legislation and the failure of successive governments to bring media laws into the 21st century to facilitate the possible unearthing and exposing of their dubious political practices are all part of the great comedy of which we are the willing participants.
The names change from administration to administration, perhaps every ten or 15 years, but the jokes remain the same and are always on us.