Over the past few days, the country has found itself sitting on the sidelines but engrossed in the ugly public spat between the Barbados Water Authority and Innotech Services Limited, a privately owned construction company operating in Barbados and across the Caribbean.
The high drama unfolded as the state-owned water agency faced a lock-out of its own $44-million complex after it defaulted on the lease payments for several months. Innotech had entered into a BOLT arrangement – the build, operate, lease and ultimately, transfer ownership of the BWA’s headquarters.
In such arrangements, the builder also financed the construction.
Since then, it emerged that the BWA had failed to pay up some $18 million in debt owed to Innotech over a 14-month period for its services.
The unpaid money was said to include arrears for the tanks in water-scarce communities which the BWA leased as much $51,000 per month for five years and rental of the BWA headquarters building in the Pine for $1 million a month for 15 years.
The figures are particularly noteworthy as they piled up after the new headquarters building appeared during one of the country’s most severe droughts, forcing residents in St Joseph, St John, St Andrew, and St Peter to endure months of dry taps.
But in the words of calypsonian Kidsite, “only ‘bout here.”
It is befuddling that authorities under the former Democratic Labour Party administration signed on behalf of taxpayers for the BWA to pay such an exorbitant lease when the country has been told that the authority has been operating at a loss to provide its services to the island.
Who will account for that? Millions are still to be paid and whether we like it or not, an agreement is an agreement.
Nonetheless, there are questions to be answered by both sides.
As a seemingly frustrated Innotech made the Ill-tempered and shortsighted move to seize tanks from water-scarce -communities, Minister of Water Resources Wilfred Abrahams defiantly declared that Government would not be bullied to pay its debts and the BWA would now find a new source to provide tanks and renegotiate the terms of other contracts.
He said, “I have invited [Innotech] to two meetings before and they have not yet sat down at the table with me and discussed the issues and the surrounding the contracts and contractual payments.”
Yet in a letter on August 24, obtained by Barbados TODAY, and verified by both parties, Innotech offered to forego close to approximately $1.2 million or $51,000 per month for at least 24 months of the initial five-year contract if the authority paid its outstanding debts from 2017 and 2018.
BWA Chairperson Leodene Worrell confirmed they received the offer but explained there were several issues and Innotech did not come to the table.
Said Worrell, “A lot of it did not make sense so we needed to have a sit’down.”
Innotech has so far declined to comment on the claims made by the BWA authorities, with company Chairman Anthony Da Silva telling Barbados TODAY:
“It is not the habit of Innotech, in the past and it will not be in the present or the future, to comment in the public domain or privately on the confidential affairs between itself and its clients.”
Respectfully, DaSilva would do well to note that in the absence of sound communication, rumour and folly take over.
A clear, accurate explanation from the company, rather than moving in to reclaim water tanks from the communities of innocent bystanders would have helped more than hurt.
Surely, the resulting chastising from Corporate Barbados which has admirably stepped up to replace the tanks is deserving.
What is clearly needed though is for the cross talk, the threats, and ultimatums to cease.
And Government must take note that it has started out on a positive note of transparency and engaging Barbadians on the way forward. Barbadians therefore have high expectations and in this case, a hardline position when the debts are indeed owed may very well tarnish its record. It need not translate into a Goliath vs David scenario.
What’s needed is level heads, willing hearts and a determination on both sides to bury the axe and get on with the business of settling this impasse in the public’s interest.