Amid warnings of a sewage crisis, Opposition Leader Mia Mottley has accused the Freundel Stuart administration of neglecting the south coast sewerage system in favour of three major tourism redevelopments – Sam Lord’s Castle, the Pierhead Marina and Grantley Adams International Airport.
Speaking last night to a large crowd of party supporters at the official launch of the Barbados Labour Party’s (BLP) 2018 elections campaign, Mottley also contended that funding for much-needed maintenance of the sewerage system was denied because of an “internecine war” raging between Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler and the Minister of Water Resource Management Dr David Estwick.
Holding aloft a set of documents which she said were Cabinet papers, Mottley further accused Sinckler in particular of dragging his feet on the repeated funding requests made by Estwick in relation to the south coast sewage mess, while questioning whether it was Prime Minister Freundel Stuart or the Minister of Finance who was in charge of Cabinet.
Back in October 2015, it was Mottley who had initially warned the Stuart, based on a leaked document written by the then Barbados Water Authority (BWA) consultant Patricia Inniss, that the south coast sewerage system urgently needed a financial injection to stave off collapse.
“This was the beginning and the middle of internecine warfare between David Estwick and Chris Sinckler, with Freundel Stuart watching on . . . [and] never stepping in,” she said last night.
Mottley further recalled that as far back as May 26, 2014, Estwick had applied to Cabinet for permission to seek funding from a Chinese bank for a project that not only would have built a new west coast sewerage system, but also would have upgraded the ones on the south coast and in Bridgetown.
“The Cabinet in May  went ahead and agreed that the [Barbados] Water Authority should go to the Chinese government and borrow money, somewhere between $440 and $600 million pursuant to that,” Mottley said, while contending that BWA officials not only signed a non-binding memorandum of understanding, but also a formal contract with the Chinese company, China National Complete Plant Import and Export.
However, the Opposition Leader claimed that after Industrial and Commercial Bank of China forwarded the document outlining the terms of financing on August 6, 2014, the Ministry of Finance never acknowledged that letter.
Mottley, who projected aspects of the alleged Cabinet documents on a big screen during last night’s meeting and promised to release the full documents later this week to back up her claims, said the reason for non-acknowledgement was that Sinckler took to Cabinet a competing paper seeking funding from the same Chinese source to redevelop Sam Lord’s Castle.
“What then started to happen was a big-time war. And within a few days Sinckler started to prioritize what projects he wants.
“He want[ed] Sam Lord’s Castle first, Pierhead Marina, Grantley Adams Airport, water mains rehabilitation, and last was the sewerage project,” she said, while telling the gathering that included residents and business operators along the south coast, “they did not care one [thing] about you the people in the south coast or the people in Bridgetown, or the people in the west coast”.
Mottley also charged that the Prime Minister made things worse by writing the Chinese on Cabinet’s intentions, but never laid out the priority for either the south coast or west coast sewerage project.
“He told them first [is] Sam Lord’s,” she claimed, while pointing out that Stuart’s letter was written and dispatched after she had sounded the alarm, based on Inniss’ findings.
Mottley further disclosed that in a letter to the Ministry of Agriculture and Water Resource Management, “the Ministry of Finance said on the 30th of November, 2015, ‘I have been directed to tell you that the draft Cabinet paper was not approved [and that] Clause 9-3 of the BWA contract should be utilized to exit the arrangement until the Government can afford it’”.
According to the Opposition Leader, it was not until Estwick made another plea to Cabinet in February 2016 that the sewerage works, embracing the south coast, the west coast and Bridgetown, were approved.
According to her, in that 2016 plea Estwick had said ‘the south coast sewage plant is currently in a state of disrepair and needs urgent attention to avoid compromising the health and the safety of residents, and the commercial entities surrounding the plants”.
However, she said, “the most damning memorandum of all” was issued by the Ministry of Finance to Estwick’s ministry on June 29, 2016 stating that with “reference your memorandum dated 29th of February . . . I have been directed to inform you that the finances of the Government of Barbados cannot support the implementation of the West Coast Sewerage Project [which included the south coast upgrade and construction of Bridgetown]”.
She said Ministry of Finance officials had advised their counterparts at water resource management that any negotiations for Chinese funding that had already commenced should be halted, and that the BWA “should concentrate on projects which address problems and/or infrastructural deficiencies in water collection and distribution”.
“In other words, forget about sewerage. If you got problems with water mains come to us, other than that the Ministry of Finance has not a red cent for you.
“These people for reasons best known to them did not want the south coast/west coast or Bridgetown fixed,” she added.