The controversial Cahill waste-to-energy project was thrust back into the limelight Wednesday afternoon when Opposition Leader Mia Mottley charged that Prime Minister Freundel Stuart’s hands were not clean in this matter, after all.
In fact, in presenting a scathing three-hour response to the equally lengthy 2017 Financial Statement and Budgetary Proposals presented Tuesday by Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler, Mottley placed corruption back on the front burner as a potential campaign issue as the country heads into a general election campaign.
In seeking to wrap the messy Cahill cloak around Stuart, the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) leader produced documents purportedly showing that the Prime Minister had been an integral part of the failed $700 million project from the very beginning, contrary to earlier perception.
Mottley noted that a number of Cabinet ministers, specifically Sinckler, Minister of the Environment Dr Denis Lowe, Minister of Housing Denis Kellman and Minister of Energy Senator Darcy Boyce, had been in the spotlight as having signed the agreement with the Guernsey-based Cahill Energy for the plasma gasification plant in Vaucluse, St Thomas, apparently without the Prime Minister’s knowledge.
However, she said she had proof that Stuart was actually the first person to approve the agreement dating back to September 13, 2013.
In May last year, the BLP leader had told Parliament during the Opposition-instigated no confidence motion, that if the Prime Minister had signed the agreement, he had an obligation to clarify the matter because it committed the people of Barbados to a long term debt, amounting to as much as $4 billion.
Tonight she was certain he had been involved in the project, which came to a screeching halt last year in the wake of protest by Barbadians, uncertainty over its funding, and developments in London, the United Kingdom and other places, which had revealed that waste to energy operations and plasma gasification projects had shown up significant flaws.
“To this date, the ministers and Cabinet of Barbados will not share with the country the contracts that were signed in their names,” Mottley said.
“Those who commit this country to multi-year liabilities like this [Cahill deal] $4.7 billion in liabilities . . . and if you think that Cahill is gone, asked them about the company that wants to buy Cahill and bring another form of waste to energy to Barbados for which the Government of Barbados is still obligated under this power purchase agreement signed by those four ministers to buy the power at kilowatt hour that they have agreed to,” the Opposition Leader told Parliament.
She promised to reveal more during a political mass meeting at Haggatt Hall, St Michael at a date to be announced, the same spot where in 2008, then Democratic Labour Party (DLP) leader David Thompson had held up copies of cheques at a similar rally, to support his claims of corruption by the then Owen Arthur-led BLP administration.
Mottley has threatened to flip the script during the election campaign, charging that corruption is pervasive within the DLP, including the Bridgetown Port, where she charged wanton acts of corruption were ongoing.
“There are about four or five ministers in here [Parliament] who really have to ask themselves some questions. When people ask, ‘how can you drive a jeep belonging to a company that provides services to your ministry and gets work from your ministry and believes that is okay?’”
The Opposition Leader sought to separate her BLP from the fray, pledging to enact anti-corruption legislation if her party were voted into office, and insisting any administration which she leads would not tolerate “corruption of any type from anybody…whether the corruption is in high places or low places”.
Mottley also presented herself as a Prime Minister in waiting, suggesting to her parliamentary colleagues that she was ready to provide inspired leadership to drag the country out of the current economic doldrums.
She contended that the country needed “proper leadership”, not the “most vicious tax take” ever to hit the country since the introduction of the taxation in 1941.
The BLP leader promised to tackle head on, the controversial printing of money by the Central Bank of Barbados to pay wages and finance Government’s programme, vowing a BLP Government would enact legislation to put an end to the practice.
Mottley also pledged to restore confidence in the economy and the country, allow key institutions the independence to function, establish an institute of independent national statistics and give wider powers to the Auditor General.
A Mottley-led administration, she said, would establish a dedicated unit for the collection of taxes, remove unnecessary red tape that makes it difficult to do business here, give the Fair Trading Commission more teeth, repeal the controversial Barbados Revenue Authority Amendment Act to provide for a different way of addressing tax compliance and form a Get Barbados Moving Again committee which she would chair.
The senior politician also promised to strengthen the Police Service Commission and take politics out of it, pass legislation to bring greater discipline and accountability to statutory boards, fix the court system, establish a commercial court to settle commercial disputes and put in place a framework for international arbitration.
Sinckler Tuesday announced a series of taxes and levies, including a 500 per cent rise in the National Social Responsibility Levy, increasing it from two per cent to ten per cent, a two per cent tax on the purchase of foreign exchange and an increase in the excise duty on petrol.
“$291 million for a National Social Responsibility Levy – in one year, almost $300 million; $140 million in the two per cent commission on foreign exchange; $50 million in excise tax; and $481 million in additional taxes. Where is it coming from?
“You ask the middle class of this country to make another sacrifice, you ask civil servants in this country to make another sacrifice, you ask poor people in this country to make another sacrifice, you beg them to hold strain, you tell them about team Barbados . . . you tell them you have this wonderful homegrown strategy, and nine years later what do they get yesterday evening? All they have to show for their sacrifice is an effective de facto devaluation of their social and economic existence and a de facto devaluation of the Barbados dollar by these measures that have been put by the Minister of Finance,” she said.