The Opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP) is alluding to “unprecedented horrors and scandals” in the report on the investigation by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of Parliament into the operation of the National Housing Corporation (NHC).
The report was the subject of much controversy last week with Acting Speaker of the House Mara Thompson refusing to allow Opposition Leader Mia Mottley, who is the PAC chairman, to complete the process of laying it in the House after Minister of Commerce and Industry Donville Inniss, himself a PAC member, objected, claiming that he had not been invited to the final meeting at which the document was discussed and agreed.
While promising to reveal all after Parliament is dissolved next week, BLP parliamentarian Kerrie Symmonds told a recent party meeting that some of the information regarding wrongdoing by the Freundel Stuart administration “has never been seen before in this country since the day of its independence”.
While contending that they were barred from disclosing the contents of the report at this time, the Opposition members who addressed the meeting, including Mottley and Member of Parliament for St Joseph Dale Marshall, did little to hide what the investigation had found.
“We exposed the fact that the price of the building at Grotto was increased by $9 million, and that no proper explanation was given for it,” Marshall told the BLP faithful, while Mottley added that a public official had signed for the Grotto contract a month before the 2013 election without the Attorney General or Solicitor General signing off, “but signed without the Cabinet agreeing that the contract could move from $18 million to $27.8 million . . . before an election is to be called”.
“The people of Barbados would want to know who could in 2013 be a minister of Government to tell a lie on a Cabinet decision [and who is the minister] that sought to terminate a contract for millions of dollars saying that the Cabinet said it should be done,” the BLP leader said.
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.