Prime Minister Mia Mottley today sought to defend the integrity and reputation of White Oak Advisory Ltd. in light of Opposition Leader Joseph Atherley’s insistence that she needed to come clean with the public on the matter.
During debate on the Integrity in Public Life Bill, Atherley again raised the issue of White Oak while warning that the controversial Cahill waste-to-energy project proposed by the former Democratic Labour Party (DLP) Government had left a bad taste in the mouth of Barbadians.
After a contract was signed in March, 2014 with the Guernsey-based Cahill Energy, the project became a major bone of contention for Mottley while she was in Opposition, and was later dumped in May 2016 by the then Freundel Stuart administration amid mounting public pressure.
However, Atherley’s attempt today to compare the failed Cahill to the London-based White Oak, which was recently appointed by the Mottley administration as restructuring advisors for Barbados as the country undertakes a debt restructuring exercise, agitated the Prime Minister somewhat as she proceeded to explain that the firm was responsible for the restructuring of sovereign bonds in several countries, and had done work either alone or in conjunction with other firms in places such as Belize, Ecuador, Grenada, Iceland, Pakistan, Seychelles, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, Côte d’lvoire and Argentina, among others.
“Before they became White Oak, the two principles, Sebastian Espinosa and David Nagoski, worked with firms in other restructurings in the Dominican Republic, Jordan, Liberia, and the former Yugoslavia,” Mottley added while pointing to a document which she said she was prepared to make “a document of the House”.
“This Government will not hide behind anything . . . . We are not going to foist under the people of Barbados anything that
cannot be defended under the light of day,” she said to sustained applause.
However, rising on a point of order, Atherley said he was simply asking a legitimate question to which he deserved a proper answer.
But during a heated exchange, Mottley accused Atherley of not doing any investigation and instead simply making allegations, which again caused the Opposition Leader to rise to his feet.
“What allegations have I made? I have simply said in here, as is my right to do . . . ‘tell the people of Barbados about White Oak’. That is all I have said,” Atherley insisted while stating that “when the other administration ran this country as the Government we asked them to be clear, open and candid with the people”.
He also stressed that “Cahill left a bad taste in our mouths” – a comment which drew the ire of the Prime Minister, who poured scorn on any mention of White Oak in the same sentence as Cahill.
While stating that Atherley was “a man of the cloth” for whom she had respect, Mottley suggested that he was simply seeking to cast innuendos.
“He understands the importance of juxtaposition of words, when he seeks to speak about White Oak in the same sentence that he does with Cahill.
“Don’t tell me you are not seeking to cast innuendo on the quality and integrity of this Government,” the Prime Minister emphasized, while telling the Opposition leader that “if you want to ask about White Oak, ask about it in the context of [reputable firms such as] Massy, ask about it in the context of Grace Kennedy, ask about it in the context of Royal Bank of Canada or First Citizens or FirstCaribbean”.
She said she had confidence in the company, while revealing that it had already made a presentation to the island’s Social Partners.
Mottley also said she had already informed Atherley that he would be given any additional information he required, indicating that once the company returned to Barbados next week she would arrange a meeting with the principals if he so desired, since she was working to bring about a level of transparency, integrity and credibility.
Before Mottley continued her presentation on the Integrity in Public Life Bill, Atherley insisted that he was simply asking a question, adding that it was the first time he heard about the company when it was appointed as advisor with respect to the debt restructuring.
“No juxtaposition intended to cast any negative shadow on what you are doing, a sincere genuine and legitimate question,” he stressed.