The former project manager for the Delta State Empowerment Programme Barbadian Sharon Brathwaite has tendered a public apology to the Prime Minister and the people of Barbados, following the recent controversy that has enveloped the nine-month study programme for 90 Nigerian students.
An emotional Brathwaite, who insists she was suspended and not fired from the programme two weeks ago, lamented in an exclusive interview with Barbados TODAY that the project had gone awry, while maintaining that she was innocent of any wrongdoing.
“This was supposed to be a beautiful beginning between Barbados and the continent of Africa.
“It was supposed to be a yearly thing that would bring great foreign reserves, jobs for people and a better understanding of cultures.
“I am so deeply hurt that something I worked so deeply on could be shattered right before my eyes,” she said in the wake of a notice issued in the local Press informing that Brathwaite “is not authorized to conduct any business whatsoever on behalf of the Delta State of Nigeria Youth Empowerment Programme in Barbados”. The notice also requested that anyone who has entered into a contract with Brathwaite or her company in relation to the programme contact attorney-at-law Tempu Nefertari-Moheni.
However, following a number of public complaints made by the Nigerian students, who have expressed strong dissatisfaction over the quality of their accommodation and inadequate water supply for them to have a daily bath or to brush their teeth, Brathwaite is seeking to set the
In the wake of recent newspaper photographs which showed some of the students dipping water from a swimming pool in order to satisfy the very basic human needs, she has put the blame squarely on the shoulders of the programme’s consultant facilitator, Barbadian compatriot Donna St Hill, who she said was guilty of “poor decision making, micro management and rude behaviour”.
“She was very difficult to work with. It was her way or no way,” complained Brathwaite, who is an esthetician, event planner and decorator by profession.
She said she came into the project in February “to help out” but was given greater responsibility for its execution after she did the logistics for the visit of Commissioner for Higher Education for Delta State Hope Egehaga in May.
Subsequent to that, Brathwaite said, issues developed between St Hill and the then project manager, which led to Brathwaite taking on that role.
In terms of the current accommodation for the Nigerian students in Barbados, Brathwaite said Infinity On The Beach was initially paid over US$300 000 as deposit and to secure the rooms for the students back in August. However, she said due to several changes made to the arrival date for the students, who at one point were held up in Trinidad, the hotel’s manager Renee Coppin had requested a further payment but this was not forthcoming and this led to the hotel’s decision to unblock the rooms.
Brathwaite said by then there were only two hotels, including Casa Grande, that could take the students but an unnamed government official had expressed reservation about them going to the other property.
Brathwaite said she therefore went ahead and made an initial payment of US$40,000 as a deposit for a four to five week stay by the 90 students.
She said she later discovered that a contract had been drawn up between the facilitator and Mrs Ram Mirchandani to pay Casa Grande over US$100 000 per month for the full nine months of the course.
Brathwaite said her company, SRB International Management Inc. also paid over $27 000 to the Immigration Department to have the Nigerians adequately covered as students of the Barbados Community College.
She said the only money she had received was US$750 000 which she used to cover accommodation, immigration, meals and transportation for the students in Barbados and Trinidad.
Stressing that at no time was she ever in control of the US$4.5 million, which she said was designated by the Delta State of Nigeria for Barbados, Brathwaite explained that all funds were forwarded to her by St Hill.
Brathwaite, who did not want to be videotaped or photographed, also pointed out that the Trinidad programme, which was valued at US$5.5 million, had also been bedeviled with problems.
She shared a copy of a letter written by the former project manager in Port-of-Spain in which she alleged that St Hill had threatened the Trinidad manager with legal action, as well as to open a case of misappropriation and fraud involving Nigeria and Trinidad and Tobago police, as well as Interpol.
The letter further alleges that St Hill had requested a doubling of the budget submitted by Barbados under
“When I questioned her reason for doing so, she responded, ‘just do it, I want to make sure I have adequate funds in case of cost overruns’ to which I complied,” the unnamed official charged.
The Trinidad official also claimed that she was contracted in March at a fee of US$10,000 per month, but when she received her formal contract in mid August it stated US$5,000 payable from May 2014.
“The final straw with St Hill, Mr [Willie] Smit [accountant] and myself was when I challenged them with respect to the medical insurance for the students; they insisted that I take out minimal medical insurance for the students to which I refused. I categorically stated and held my ground that I will not compromise the well-being of the students because they were going to be operating in a high risk environment and they should be heavily insured with an air lift coverage in case of an emergency, to which they refused. From there, our working relationship progressively went downhill and St Hill eventually stated that she did not want me working on the project anymore.
“I received a letter from St Hill stating that I was the cause of the students’ not being able to land in Trinidad and as such she was terminating my services,” the Trinidadian project manager claims.