Memories of the Cahill waste to energy scandal were rekindled in the House of Assembly this morning when Opposition Leader Bishop Joseph Atherley placed the issue on the table while urging the Mia Mottley-led administration to come clean on White Oaks Advisory Ltd.
Mottley announced last week that Government had appointed the London-based independent financial advisory firm to act as its financial advisor in the context of the debt-restructuring process it announced earlier this month.
“The financial advisor is in the process of establishing initial contacts with affected creditors, and is expected to soon commence creditor engagement on the basis of the medium-term macroeconomic projections to be finalized by the Government in the coming weeks,” the administration said in a statement.
However, in his response today to the $1.2 billion austerity Budget presented yesterday by the Prime Minister in her capacity as Minister of Finance, Atherley called on Government to explain the White Oaks arrangement to the country in light of the secrecy that had surrounded the waste to energy plant which the former Democratic Labour Party (DLP) administration had proposed following a contract signed in March, 2014 with the Guernsey-based Cahill Energy.
“A word on the entity called White Oaks, the entity which will be interfacing with our creditors on our behalf. Though this is not similar to the Cahill situation, the recent Cahill fiasco has left a bad taste in the mouths of Barbadians. And therefore, we need to have more information divulged on White Oaks,” Atherley said, adding that it was not enough that Government asked Barbadians to research the company.
He said the Mia Mottley-led Government had a responsibility to tell Barbadians what they were getting into “with these people, and who are they”.
Atherley reminded the BLP that when it was in Opposition it frequently questioned the then DLP administration on its “misdeeds”, and it was only fair that they hold themselves to the same standards.
“We need to hear the bona fides of White Oaks. We need to understand whether or not they are the subject of any transactional conflicts. We need to find out if White Oaks has any local connections. It would be good if we knew who their principals are. We need to know what is the full extent of their involvement. Is it just that they are interfacing with our creditors on our behalf full stop, or is there further involvement?”
The Opposition Leader said his research suggested that White Oaks negotiates with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and undertakes strategic reviews of state enterprises.
Therefore, Atherley questioned whether the entity would assist Government with its negotiations with the lending agency, or if it would “be assisting the Barbados Government with any such look at our own state-owned enterprises as we seek to address the issue of cost to Government relative to statutory corporations, especially by means of transfers”.
“Ultimately, what is going to be the cost of engaging White Oaks? What is the cost to Barbadians of engaging White Oaks? I am not privy to any of this information and I don’t know if the Barbadian people are. I am simply suggesting that they ought to be,” the sole Opposition parliamentarian stated.
The DLP administration had reached a deal with Cahill to build a $240 million waste to energy plant in Vaucluse, St Thomas, but abandoned the idea after much public outcry over its potential environmental impact.