Following their recent complaints about the quality of their accommodation at Casa Grande Hotel in Oldbury, St Philip, the 90 Nigerian students whose nine-month stay in Barbados has been shrouded in controversy are to be relocated to their promised south coast home – Infinity on the Beach.
This was revealed today by the programme’s consultant facilitator, Barbadian Donna St Hill, in an exclusive interview with Barbados TODAY, in which she revealed that an internal investigation was now underway into the management of US$750,000 entrusted to former project manager Sharon Brathwaite.
St Hill said Brathwaite, who was suspended two weeks ago, had still not accounted for all her transactions, with roughly $2,000-$3,000 now left in the account.
While admitting that the Delta State Empowerment Programme, which is said be costing the Nigerian government US$10 million in total between Barbados and Trinidad had “turned sour”, St Hill said she was presently focused on “redoing the project from scratch”, including hiring a new project manager in Bridgetown after Brathwaite accused her of micro-management. “I delegate authority, but I am responsible to the Governor and the Delta State. So I have to know what is going on, and I have to be the one who approves spending,” said the programme facilitator, while noting that “being the boss means sometimes not being popular”.
In explaining the recent breakdown between her and Brathwaite, she said “the turning point really was when I learnt Miss Brathwaite had gone to Nigeria to see my clients, not to take over the responsibilities of the headaches, but to control more of the financing and have it paid directly to her”.
St Hill also said she was shocked that even after some of the Nigerian students were reportedly forced to seek local medical treatment, the programme’s administrators were told by the doctors “they never heard of us”.
“They [doctors] were shocked,” she said.
St Hill also said some of the students were at her throat, accusing her of bringing bad food to them when she had instructed Brathwaite from the first day on the type of menu required.
She further charged that the former project manager was guilty of inciting the students to complain and that she had written to Brathwaite warning her that such behaviour would not only be bad for her, but also harmful for Barbados.
“The suspension didn’t seem to stop that. It kept going on. I had letters coming to my hotel with my room number on it, which could only have come from certain places,” said St Hill, who described the recent happenings as “slightly disturbing”.
“There is a lot of passion and I can see clearly people still want to come back and work on the project, which I am surprised [about], seeing they were not fired, just suspended,” the facilitator pointed out.
In terms of the students’ accommdation, St Hill confirmed that efforts were underway to have the Nigerians move to Infinity on the Beach in St Lawrence Gap by May of this year.
She explained that despite the loss of their booking last year, a contractual arrangement remained in place with the hotel for the provision of accommodation for the students.
“We [gave] them [Infinity] what they needed to have . . . So anytime we are ready to move in, that is still the arrangement of the contract we have with them,” she explained, adding that the manager of Infinity on the Beach Renee Coppin had been invited to address the students.
“I was hoping she [Coppin] would have said March [to relocate], but we were all surprised when she said May, having been told January or February. We have to respect that and just asked, ‘could you [Coppin] now put it in writing so that everybody is on the same page?’
“We are working towards that and [have asked the hotel to] let us know what is the balance [having made an earlier deposit].”
The programme leader acknowledged that they may be forced to forfeit some of the money already paid to the south coast hotel based on the fact that the students, who were orginally due here in time for September, had been delayed until December.
St Hill also praised the owner of Casa Grande, Mrs Asha Ram Mirchandani, who she said had come to the rescue of the visiting African students.
“I have to say that even before [the money] was deposited into her account, the students were in the place. No other hotel really would have done that . . .
“She put herself out for us and for the students. They would have had to go back to Nigeria. The only other place they could go was back to Nigeria,” St Hill added.