The die has been cast and it is for the current Barbados Labour Party (BLP) government to ensure that the recommendations contained in the report of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) 2013 – 2018 are carried out, lawmakers have insisted.
At the same time, Opposition Leader Joseph Atherley is demanding answers to who will pay for alleged wrongdoings under the former Democratic Labour Party (DLP) government based on the findings of the report.
The PAC report discussed in today’s sitting of the House of Assembly also recommends legal action and where necessary “for the institutions of criminal and or civil proceedings against any individual whose conduct has caused the Crown to suffer any loss”.
Government backbencher Ralph Thorne insisted that the resolution was being brought in order to “restore righteousness” and the doing of right in the public life of Barbados.
“Again, I say this in the hearing of the presence of the member of the Opposition, never again must this House descend into the abyss of impropriety as committed by the former government,” said Thorne, adding “I don’t know what sanctions the people of Barbados request or require.”
The controversial PAC report paints a picture of wanton disregard for proper procedure by the National Housing Corporation (NHC) in granting contracts, and the disregard of these procedures 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 the then 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.
Atherley agreed that steps should be taken to prevent any recurrence, adding that the report should serve as a reminder that those placed in power by the electorate should “be careful with their connections”.
However, he said the pertinent question that should now be answered was who will pay and at what price?
“We want to know who is going to pay the price for getting us into this mess in the first place and what that price is going to be? Barbadians do not want lip service on that issue. Barbadians do not want grandstanding on that issue. The question is a serious one,” he said.
Atherley, who is the current Chairman of the PAC, insisted that Government takes a public stand on some issues including whether the meetings of the PAC should be public.
“That was not resolved. We need to know what the public position is on that,” he said, adding that another issue was whether government ministers and members of Parliament could be summoned to give witness before the PAC.
“These matters were never fully resolved,” he added.
In his contribution, Minister of Tourism Kerrie Symmonds, a former member of the PAC, accused the last DLP administration of engaging in “matters as pernicious and vile as naked theft” from citizens of the country and suppression of information of all types relating to the public affairs of Barbados.
Symmonds also took issue with the finding in the report that some 200 people were hired at the NHC after the DLP came to power in 2008 and another 50 were hired in January 2013, on the eve of the February 2013 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 St James Central MP called on the current PAC chairman Atherley to support the recommendations contained in the 74-page report.
“I am saying respectfully that now the die has been cast and it is for this Government to ensure that these recommendations contained herein, are seen to have the light of day,” said Symmonds.
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 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 controversial report also recommended that further action be taken by the appropriate organs of government, by way of investigation, with a view to making further recommendations where appropriate, and if necessary.
The committee further suggested that where appropriate, all legal steps be taken against individuals whose conduct has constituted misconduct in public office in order to recover any compensation due and owing to the Crown and arising as a result of losses sustained from such misconduct.
The PAC maintained 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.
Insisting that the BLP was willing to be held to the highest standards, Symmonds said the Mia Mottley-led administration was willing to “bind each other to accountability and transparency”.
When summoned in November 2016 by then Chairman of the PAC Mia Mottley to answer questions relating to public housing based on matters raised by the report, then housing minister Denis Kellman, former Minister of Housing Michael Lashley and then Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler refused.