The seven-month-old Mia Mottley administration has flexed its muscle with a local property management company warning that the business will not hold the Government of Barbados to ransom even if it is owed substantial monies by the state-owned Barbados Water Authority (BWA).
In fact, Water Resources Minister Wilfred Abrahams took it a step further and declared that the company, Innotech Services Limited broke a contract with the BWA by removing the water tanks from some rural communities yesterday in an apparent bid to force the hand of the authority over the debt. The outstanding debt is understood to be in the millions.
“Why this behaviour is so reprehensible is that you are now using the health and safety and the water supply of those, who by their circumstances are the most vulnerable where the water is concerned and for whom it was deemed necessary to put down community tanks so they are not disadvantaged . . . you are now using them as a pawn in a game that they are not playing in. That makes no sense. That says a lot more about Innotech as a company than it does about the BWA,” an angry Abrahams said.
The Minister of Energy and Water Resources took this militant stance this afternoon, as he hit back hard at Innotech Services for removing the water tanks it had installed in those communities plagued with water outages or shortages.
Abrahams accused the construction, technology and equipment services firm of using the consumers in the water-scarce communities as pawns in order to recoup millions of dollars in outstanding rent and other services which the BWA owes Innotech.
“Innotech is a major contractor with the BWA. The fact that they felt the need to pick up the community water tanks is unfortunate. But we are not going to be bullied. Innotech has been rattling their swords recently and they have been threatening to lock us out the BWA headquarters . . . and that obviously did not get the desired results. And now they have resorted to picking up the water tanks,” Abrahams declared.
Without holding back his disgust, the Minister told Barbados TODAY that while the Government and by extension, the water utility company, was willing to sit down with the principals of Innotech and negotiate a settlement, neither he nor his administration would be bullied by anyone.
“I am prepared to sit down with Innotech
. . . I have invited them to two meetings before and they have not yet sat down at the table with me and discussed the issues surrounding the contracts and contractural payments. I am still prepared to sit down with Innotech and work through all of this so we can come to some happy understanding that makes everybody comfortable and provide some commercial sense to all the parties,” he said.
“What we will not do is be held to ransom. So I wish to categorically state that neither I, Wilfred Abrahams, the BWA nor the Government of Barbados, submit to bullying by anybody. We have to do our best for Barbadians and that is what we are doing. We will not be taken advantage of, and we will not be held to ransom,” the Minister insisted.
Turning his attention specifically to Innotech’s removal of the water tanks, Abrahams said the company had effectively broken the contract by its action, and the Government has agreed to end it and source the tanks from elsewhere.
“With respect to the tanks that they picked up, as far as we are concerned, that is a repudiation of the contract to provide services to us and they can keep those tanks. We will not find ourselves in a position again, where, because of a dispute between the company and the BWA, that they feel embolden to disadvantage the people in St. Joseph and the people in affected areas,” he added.
He contended that what made more sense at this point, was for Government and the BWA to provide that service on its own in order to have control and be able to guarantee the community water tanks have water so those who require potable water can have access.
“So as far as I am concerned, that contract with Innotech supplying tanks is at an end. They have repudiated that contract and we accept it,” Abrahams told Barbados TODAY.
Asked if he had already sourced alternative tanks, the Minister replied in the affirmative.
“Yea. At the end of the day, there is nothing special about the tanks. There are water tanks that some people have in their houses, that commercial entities have. There are a number of suppliers in Barbados that have them. The BWA has already commenced its procurement process to get those tanks replaced as quickly as possible.
“And in an interesting twist, some good corporate citizens have contacted both the BWA and myself to donate tanks,” he revealed.
He said the installation of the new tanks will be done in quick order so that those for whom they had been set up in the first place, are guaranteed water supply.
While Abrahams is not ruling out taking Innotech to court in order the resolve this dispute, he said such action would be a last resort because he would rather have a negotiated resolution.
He acknowleged that the issue surrounding the removal of the water tanks was not the only matter with Innotech that required a resolution.
“I don’t want to prejudice any possible negotiations. Besides the water tanks contract, there are other contracts that we are in with Innotech, and all I can do is urge that Innotech comes to the table, present their side of the story, let the BWA and Government present our side and let us come to some happy medium,” the Minister suggested.
Abrahams argued that almost every other vendor who has a contract with Government had re-negotiated a good faith compromise but Innotech was the only one holding out.
When Barbados TODAY reached out to chairman of Innotech Services Tony DaSilva, he chose not to comment at this stage.
However, it is understood that the BWA is indebted to the company to the tune of $18 million over a 14-month period for various services including the rental of the building housing the authority’s Pine, St Michael headquarters.