In Greek mythology, a Chimera is a fire-breathing female monster with a lion’s head, a goat’s body, and a serpent’s tail. It does not take a physiological or engineering genius to figure out who or what the remnants of the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) regard as this monster that so brutally condemned them to relative obscurity on that fateful May day this year. Too bad the DLP was unable to create its own version of Bellerophon, the mythical greatest hero and slayer of monsters, whose most outstanding feat was killing the Chimera.
However, ‘a thing which is hoped for but is illusory or impossible to achieve’, is the definition of Chimera that more aptly describes the efforts this week of former Minister of Culture Stephen Lashley to defend a last-minute contract to Cranston Browne, the chief executive officer of the National Cultural Foundation (NCF), and by extension, contracts granted to various people by the DLP in the dying days of the Freundel Stuart administration.
For, despite his legal arguments, Mr Lashley, a lawyer, left unanswered some compelling political questions.
Since the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) took up office following the May 24 general election, it has complained bitterly about such contracts, some of which it charged were renewed up to two years before they were set to expire.
“I have already started to talk to the country about the many contracts signed in the dying days of an administration that had long seen the dissolution of Parliament. We must investigate how to get a better deal for Barbadians from these hastily concluded contracts and leases that the previous Government signed off on, at lightning speed, even as the nation was days away from going to the polls,” Prime Minister Mia Mottley said in her Budget presentation on June 11.
These charges have since been repeated several times, without challenge, as the former DLP ministers and candidates seemingly retreated to lick their wounds.
However, after the Sunday Sun carried a front page story on July 22 headlined, ‘Shocking Contracts’, questioning the renewal of contracts for Browne, as well as Chief Executive Officer of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH) Dr Dexter James, former Minister of Industry, Commerce and Small Business Development Donville Inniss fired back.
Mr Inniss, who was Minister of Health when Dr James was appointed, defended the reported $257,129.64 annual salary that the hospital boss received, and chastised his former Cabinet colleagues for not speaking out in their defence.
We will not suggest that it was this order – pardon us, this plea – from Mr Inniss that prompted Ms Lashley to respond, but in his statement to Barbados TODAY he explained the meticulous nature of the process in renewing Mr Browne’s contract.
He said Mr Browne’s two-year contract, signed in 2016, expired on April 21, 2018, and that the board of directors had agreed at a meeting on February 22, to renew the contract for another two years, commencing April 22, 2018.
However, this is where it gets interesting. It was not until May 8, two months after Parliament was allowed to dissolve automatically, that the chairman wrote to the minister requesting approval of the contract renewal.
“Having received the Board’s recommendation . . . the minister by Cabinet Paper invited the Cabinet to consider the recommendation [and] at its meeting of May 17, 2018 the Cabinet considered and approved the minister’s recommendation that Mr Browne’s contract be renewed for a period of two years effective April 22, 2018,” Mr Lashley said, adding that it on May 22, two days before the poll, that he advised the chairman of the Cabinet’s approval.
The question remains, Mr Lashley, why did your Government wait until two days before the election, six weeks after Parliament had dissolved, to grant a new contract? Surely, it could not have been this urgent, otherwise it would have been dealt with much earlier. In this context, why not wait until after the poll and allow the incoming administration a free hand?
The story gets even more interesting. It would appear that in the haste to get the contract done and dusted, a serious error was made with the date and responsibility was deflected.
“In the preparation of the contract, I’m informed that the NCF management made an error in the first paragraph with respect to the date of the contract and repeated the old date of April 22, 2016, when in fact it should have stated April 22, 2018,” the former minister said.
There is no reason to believe that there was any hanky panky involved on the part of the former minister, in the issuing of the contract. However, the wrong date did not look good, and it provided an opening for detractors to question his sincerity, for while he did not sign the contract, he is the minister and little errors like this can result in big headaches later, as was the case here.
However, if the latest media reports are true, Mr Lashley as one of four defeated DLP candidates who will vie for the leadership on August 12, all four of whom were pulverized at the polls by their BLP opponents, will have even bigger problems resuscitating the emaciated party.
Maybe this is his greatest chimera.