Former Minister of Housing Michael Lashley wants to make it clear that the Al Barrack fiasco, which ended up costing Government in excess of $100 million, did not occur under his watch.
In fact, Lashley, who is the current Minister of Transport and Works, suggestedv during a ruling party meeting at Parkinson Memorial Secondary School last night, that his hands were clean since he was not even actively involved in politics when the contract for the Warrens Office Complex was awarded to the Vincentian building contractor.
“In 1997 I was in every single court of law practising my profession. I was in the Magistrates’ Court, I was in the High Court and in the Court of Appeal,” said the trained attorney-at-law, who has been the Member of Parliament for St Philip North since 2003.
However, Lashley went on to suggest that the project, which was approved by the previous Barbados Labour Party (BLP) administration, was embroiled in controversy from the start, while claiming that not only did Barrack Construction not pre-qualify for the project, but that its bid was $3 million higher than the four others received.
Lashley also pointed out that an amendment had to be made to the Housing Act after it was discovered that the National Housing Corporation (NHC) did not have the legal power to construct office accommodation.
“The rush was to tidy up the arrangement because since the NHC does not have the legal authority to go into building commercial buildings, it means that the whole contract was in a little problem,” Lashley said.
Nine years ago the High Court ordered the then BLP administration to settle its $34 million debt to the contractor. However, this ended up costing Government more than four times that amount, with the current Minister of Housing Denis Kellman reporting to Parliament last week that after making nearly $150 million in payments to contractor Al Barrack, Government was still leasing the Warrens complex from Barrack Construction Ltd.
Speaking during debate on a $13.7 million supplementary vote to complete the payment of legal fees to Barrack’s attorneys Sir Richard Cheltenham, QC; Sir Maurice King, QC; Sir Trevor Carmichael, QC; and Douglas Trotman, Kellman argued that these inherited expenses had proven burdensome to the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) administration.
However, amid the difficulties, he gave the assurance that the DLP would seek to bring the entire Barrack saga to a close.