What is so secret about a public issue?
Building contractor Al Barrack has finally collected from Government all the outstanding moneys he was owed for constructing the controversial Warrens Office Complex that today houses an assortment of Government ministries, departments and agencies –– among them the National HIV/AIDS Commission and the Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc.
Anyone who has closely followed the ten-year-long saga, many episodes of which were played out in full public view via the media, must have been shocked last night, but simultaneously relieved, on reading the Barbados TODAY exclusive that the issue at long last had been settled. What must have been more shocking, perhaps, was the news the settlement had occurred not
in the last few days or weeks, but since the end of last year –– almost
four months ago.
While we are naturally happy that the troubles of the elderly Mr Barrack are finally over, given the frustration and inconvenience he has endured, we are at the same time disappointed that Government has treated what is an essentially a public matter as if it were some private deal. The full settlement –– $73 million, to be precise –– involves a hefty sum of taxpayers’ money; and basic courtesy at least demanded that Government should have made some formal public announcement, even if it involved two or three sentences.
The silence surrounding the settlement of the Barrack case begs the question if this is how Government generally conducts the people’s business, where deals are signed in private and the public find out afterwards in some willy-nilly manner. Indeed, the silence surrounding the Barrack settlement bears some similarity with the highly controversial Cahill waste-to-energy deal, which the incumbent administration reportedly signed without making any formal announcement. When the details eventually emerged, the implications infuriated Barbadians.
In this enlightened age of the 21st century when modern democratic governance is defined by the practice of such principles as openness, transparency and accountability on the part of governments, the citizens of Barbados certainly deserve better. Informing the public in a proper and timely manner about important decisions is not some special favour which Government grants at its whim and fancy. To the contrary, the public have a right to know as they are the ones who always have to foot the bill.
Barbados TODAY appreciates the cooperation of Minister of Housing Dennis Kellman who, in responding to our queries, broke the news. However, we are somewhat disappointed that the opportunity of making the announcement before could have escaped Mr Kellman.
He likes to engage the public in his own inimitable style and is especially well known for calling up the radio talk shows to defend the Government whenever it finds itself being hammered by critics over its handling of various issues.
The Barrack case was an issue of great public interest, especially after the contractor embarked on a public crusade to press the Government to pay him his money, resorting to actions like padlocking the doors of the office complex one morning, which prevented the workers from entering.
He was given the contract to build the complex by the former Barbados Labour Party (BLP) Government. Problems subsequently arose, however. The dispute was referred to arbitration and a judgment with an award of $34 million was handed down in the High Court in 2006 in favour of the contractor.
The incumbent Democratic Labour Party (DLP) administration inherited the issue on being elected to office in 2008. However, because of the onset of the recession, which severely affected the Government’s cash flow, the new administration found it difficult to fully settle the debt in one swoop.
It put forward some repayment options, but they were not accepted.
The $73 million which Barrack finally collected in instalments, the final one being paid last December, includes a significant accumulation of interest. \At least, all’s well that ends well.
Despite his epic struggle, Mr Barrack has finally collected what is his and has good reason to smile all the way to the bank. The Government, for its part, has fully honoured its obligations, ensuring its reputation remains unblemished.
At least, the charge can never be made, except maliciously, that the Government of Barbados does not honour its commitments and pay its bills. Every Barbadian can feel justifiably feel proud of this fact.