Declaring he was far from tired and in fact energized, Prime Minister Freundel Stuart today confronted several national issues facing the country with the assurance that he was focused on “getting Barbados right”.
In a more than three-hour-long, one-on-one session with senior media managers at his official Two Mile Hill residence, Stuart frankly addressed the White Hill dilemma; vexing water issues; the now abandoned Cahill Plasma Gasification project, and the damning 2015 Auditor General Report, among other topics.
The Prime Minister revealed that help was on the way for despairing White Hill, St Andrew residents, who have been severely affected by land slippage that has wrecked houses and roads.
Stuart said he discussed the matter with his Minister of Transport and Works Michael Lashley earlier this week, and was hopeful that a long-term solution to remedy the problems affecting the rural area would soon be ready.
“The White Hill matter is going to cost us as I understand it from the minister. There is now a report from the Chief Technical Officer that is come to Cabinet, so we can decide to move on White Hill in a sustainable way.”
In the same vein, Stuart revealed that efforts were continuing to address persistent water outages affecting several parishes across the country, especially St John, St Joseph, St Andrew and St Peter.
Notwithstanding prevailing drought conditions, the Prime Minister said depleting water levels and aging old mains had further compounded the island’s water woes.
Revealing that the matter was discussed at yesterday’s Cabinet meeting, he announced that two desalination plants that would make 300 thousand gallons of water available would soon be installed.
Another issue of concern for country’s leader was the issue of solid waste management. Stuart said his Government had returned to the drawing table to find a solution to the island’s waste disposal predicament now that the Cahill waste-to-energy project had been aborted.
Standing behind his decision to forgo the multi-million dollar controversial project following a strong public outcry, Stuart rubbished concerns that Government could find itself liable for pulling out of the deal that was expected to result in the Guernsey-based Cahill Energy investing millions in the proposed plant at Vaucluse, St Thomas.
“I don’t know that there can be any liabilities hidden anywhere for the Government of Barbados,” Stuart pointed out. He argued that “there were no representations made by the Government Barbados on the basis of which people altered their position and expended monies or anything like that.
“In any event, like I said there could be no contracting out of the statutory obligations of anyone who wants to establish a plant in Barbados. . . so as far as a liability is concerned, the answer is no.”
Turning his attention to Auditor General Leigh Trotman’s report, the Prime Minister told the media he was very concerned about the reoccurring issues cited in this year’s report, which cited millions in outstanding arrears, unauthorized transactions, misplaced funds and flawed contracts between the Government and private entities.
“This year [report] is not for anybody’s comfort, the Prime Minister said, as he chastised public servants for treating the Auditor General’s report with “unpretending indifference”.
Saying that he would personally take on the issue, Stuart stressed that not only would greater consideration be given to widening the powers of the Auditor General, but greater pressure would be placed on permanent secretaries to be more vigilant about the management of their departments.
“A more serious responsibility is going to have be devolved on the shoulders of permanent secretaries to ensure that issues that need to be clarified; that explanations that need to be given are given in a timely fashion, so that when the Auditor General’s report is published, it reflects reality and not just information that he has had to make do with, because he had no better information at his disposal.”
The Prime Minister also disclosed that Government would be taking a closer look at the operations of statutory corporations that remain a drain on the public purse.
He pledged that his Government would continue efforts to steer the country in the right direction and when pressed about whether his administration had lost favour with Barbadians he admitted that while there were things about which people were unhappy. However, Stuart said he was not “uncomfortable”, warning that “none of the orchestrated or engineered excitement around me can ruffle my feeling of calm”.
The Prime Minister also fended off talk of an early general election, saying, “elections have not crossed my mind, and I don’t think about elections at all. I think about getting Barbados right,” he told journalists.