The Barbados Labour Party (BLP) made it clear today that it would not return to Parliament during the remainder of this term, after the swarm of angry Bees stormed out of the House today.
Opposition Leader Mia Mottley also made it clear that BLP Senators would not be returning to the Upper Chamber until the next parliamentary term begins following general elections, constitutionally due by June. The current Parliament automatically dissolves on March 5, but Prime Minister Freundel Stuart is yet to announce the date for the upcoming poll.
“This is now mock sport and we will not be accomplices to the mock sport that this Government is making of the people of Barbados. As far as we are concerned the Parliament of 2013-2018 came to an end this morning for the Barbados Labour Party,” Mottley told reporters this afternoon during a hastily called news conference at office of the Opposition Leader.
“We will be rubbing shoulders with the people, we would be out there with the people, we would be making our case to the people, but rest assured that Barbados is in too precarious a position for us to be complicit in an act of mock sport and political gallerying by this Government.”
At issue is the refusal by Deputy Speaker Mara Thompson to allow Mottley, who is Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), to complete the process of laying the PAC’s report for 2013-2018, which looked into the operation of the National Housing Corporation (NHC).
Government minister Donville Inniss, himself a member of the PAC, had objected to Mottley’s attempt to give notice of the report, claiming that he had not been invited to the final meeting at which the document was discussed and agreed.
However, Mottley strenuously denied Inniss’ claim, arguing that all seven Government members of the 13-member PAC had been kept in the loop every step of the way.
“Not only was this report circulated, not only was notice of the meeting given, but on the same morning Minister Inniss contacted me by text to indicate that he would be late for the meeting but that he intended to attend,” Mottley explained.
“The meeting started, the members of the Opposition were present, the independent member, Senator John Watson, was also present. Of the seven members of Government who were invited, only one gave an issue and that was Minister Donville Inniss. We heard nothing from the other six as has been the case for the last 18 months,” she added.
Producing a number emails to support her claim that all members of the PAC were contacted by parliamentary staff about all meetings, Mottley questioned if it was the contents of the report that worried the administration.
“What is it in this report that caused the Government to do what I know of no other Parliament in my almost 30 years of Parliament has done? What is it that caused them to literally go into contortions this morning to come back and say that they going to un-lay what I gave notice of this morning? I know of no other circumstance where the House allows somebody to give notice of a report and the House comes back 20 minutes later to undo it. So on the basis of what transpired there can no further use for Opposition participation in Parliament,” Mottley stressed.
The controversial report, a copy of which was obtained by Barbados TODAY, paints a picture of wanton disregard for proper procedure by the NHC in granting contracts, and by Government in funding the statutory agency.
Among the serious claims in the report, which is based on the testimony of several witnesses, is the assertion that Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler executed the contract for financing the Grotto housing project for an additional $9.85 million, raising the amount from $18 million to $27.85 million, without the approval of the Solicitor General or Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite.
The report also found that 200 persons were hired at the NHC after the Democratic Labour Party came to power in 2008 and another 50 were hired in December 2013, on the eve of general elections, even though the NHC had been declared insolvent and no board decision had been taken to authorize the hiring of these additional people.
The PAC made several recommendations, including that Parliament takes note of its finding that a letter dated February 18, 2013 from the Minister of Housing to the NHC chairman “purporting to communicate a decision of Cabinet, allegedly made” on February 13, but which, “on the basis of Minutes of the Cabinet, was not made by Cabinet”.
“The committee strongly deprecates this conduct of the then Minister of Housing, Michael Lashley, misrepresenting the decisions of Cabinet as it undermines the integrity of public administration in Barbados and the integrity of Cabinet governance itself,” the report states.
The PAC also recommended that ministers “must not sign contracts purporting to bind the Government and expose it to legal and/or financial liability in the absence of the review and approval” of either the Solicitor General or the Attorney General, or Cabinet itself.