Opposition Leader Mia Mottley tonight described the proposed Cahill Energy Project as one of the biggest “sell outs” perpetrated against the people of Barbados since the introduction of Cabinet Government in 1954.
Responding to the 2015/2016 Financial Statement and Budgetary Proposals presented by Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs last evening, Mottley produced several documents which she held up as proof that Cahill Energy, which was established in 2012, was nothing more than a “shell company”.
In fact, she charged that the Guernsey-based enterprise, which signed a memorandum of understanding with Government for the construction of a multi-million dollar waste-to-energy plant last year, had recently chosen to “sell the company Cahill Energy Barbados (CEB) and to use the funds raised to promote its own project development business”.
With the project now due to start in September of this year, Mottley warned that the country was now exposed to “tens or hundreds of millions in dollars in liability” as a result of the 30-year exclusive contract, signed by four Government ministers, for which she said the company was not being held to any real environmental standards.
“The consequences potentially for the country financially and environmentally are of such serious proportion that the whole of Barbados must now pause and have a conversation. The implications for the breaches of governance are such that unlike any time since Cabinet Government has been introduced in this country, has there been a situation where four ministers of Government have been on a path that potentially has now exposed this country to millions, tens or hundreds of millions of dollars in liability,” she said.
The Opposition Leader also claimed that under the agreement, signed on March 15 last year between the Minister of Finance, the Minister of the Environment Denis Lowe, the Minister of Energy Senator Darcy Boyce and the Minister of Housing Denis Kellman and the CEO of Cahill Energy Clare Cowan, the Canadian firm was exempted from paying a slew of taxes, including corporation tax, Value Added Tax, transfer tax, withholding tax, import duties on waste, tyres and other supply items, as well as export duties.
She further claimed that under the accord Government was required to compulsorily acquire the land at Vaucluse, St Thomas and “transfer it free of cost” to Cahill Energy Barbados.
While saying she was prepared to give Prime Minister Freundel Stuart the benefit of the doubt in terms his knowledge of the agreement, Mottley said Stuart was duty bound to investigate the matter now it had been made public “and deal with it before this debate is finished”.
She claimed that even though the agreement was signed in March, 2014, Cabinet was only officially informed about two months later of the MOU, which was the subject of a town hall meeting held at the St Thomas Parish Church in July last year at which officials of Cahill said they would be spending $480 million on building a cutting edge technology plasma gasification plant that would bring significant benefits to the economy of Barbados.
However, Mottley charged that not only had the cost of the project almost doubled since then, but it had come at a tremendous cost to the people of Barbados and would result in “$100 million more per year in electricity costs”.
In revealing further details of the accord, she said Cahill Energy had been given the right to import stacks of tyres duty free to be used in the project, as well as the exclusive rights to build all waste to energy projects. Therefore, no other company could do so without its permission.
Mottley also claimed that Government had committed itself to compulsorily acquire 27 acres of land at Vaucluse for the construction of the plant and the company was granted permission to drill water wells and build rainwater lagoons.
During her near four-hour long presentation, the Opposition Leader also raised concern about the award of several contracts to Preconco, owned by businessman Mark Maloney. These include the construction of molasses tanks at the Bridgetown Port.
She also questioned the price tag on two low income projects which she said were constructed at $540 per square foot at a total cost of over $20 million each to Government.
The other issue, which generated heated back and forth between Mottley and Minister of the Environment Dr Denis Lowe, was a charge by Mottley that two Government officials were driving cars owned by the company Transtec.
She also questioned the price charged by the Kendal Hill, Christ Church-based company for repairs to trucks, operated by the Sanitation Service Authority, which falls under Lowe, and buses at the Transport Board, which reports to Minister of Transport and Works Michael Lashley.
Rising to make his contribution to the debate immediately after Mottley took her seat, Minister of Tourism Richard Sealy sidestepped the charges leveled by the Opposition Leader, saying she failed to say how she would address issues raised in the Budget and instead went off on a rant.