Declaring that she was not giving any “free rides”, Prime Minister Mia Mottley last night staunchly defended her appointment of five special advisors.
These are Dr Hugh Sealey, who will tackle sewage and environmental matters; Dr Annalee Babb, digital technology; Dr Avinash Persaud, economic matters; Ben Arrindell, the international business sector, and Jonathan Reid, youth policy.
“These are not people we have taken from the side of the road and these are people who will be held accountable,” Mottley said during her first one-on-one interview since coming to power following the May 24 general elections.
The Prime Minister, who had earlier named a 28-member Cabinet, along with two ambassadors who can attend Cabinet meetings, told veteran journalist David Ellis that despite criticisms raised about the overall size of her Government, “we haven’t even come close” to the costs of the former Freundel Stuart administration.
“What I have asked the country to bear in terms of additional ministers in Government – all of whom have been voted for – is less than a million dollars,” she suggested, adding that “in terms of the five special advisors that we are bringing on board, we believe that they add value and equally they are less than $750,000 [in annual costs],”
She also said that having inherited a situation where virtually every sphere in the country was under threat, she had to hit the ground running with the right team.
“The notion that I can come into a Government and find all kinds of consultants in tourism, international transport, Invest Barbados, the Prime Minister’s Office, the Ministry of Public Works, the Ministry of Transport . . . I will give you chapter and verse on all because it comes into millions of dollars,” Mottley said.
But though armed with a blue folder filled with documents she said were the contracts of consultants hired under Stuart’s watch, Mottley stopped short of giving specifics in the 90-minute interview, even though she pointed out that there was a special events promoter in her predecessor’s office and another consultant who was being paid $7,000 from Invest Barbados and $5,000 from the Barbados Tourism Authority.
At the same time, Mottley revealed that all the positions in her office had not been filled even as she sought to justify her hiring of her Communications Director Charles Jong.
Revealing that she had a personal aide and she needed someone who could handle her communications with the rest of the country and within Government, the Prime Minister said that Jong was offered a contract and his salary was 50 per cent less than that paid to former DLP General Secretary George Pilgrim, who served as Principal Political Advisor to Stuart.
“When I go, he [Jong] goes. This is not a case of putting somebody in the public service, but this is a case of recognizing that I need to manage communications,” she explained.
With respect to her ministerial appointments, Mottley said the “complexity of governance has changed”, adding that she had to create more ministries to satisfy her mission critical objectives intended to stabilize the Barbados economy.
“And I have said so to the ministers, I have said that each of them must be accountable; that this is not a free ride for anybody, that their work must be reviewed, that they must be humble, that they must be caring and they must remember always why we came to Government and what we were elected to do.”