The contentious issue of the $51,000 per month contract between construction firm Innotech Services Limited and the Barbados Water Authority (BWA) for the supply of community water tanks, reached the floor of Parliament today with a Cabinet minister declaring that the people of Barbados have been taken for a ride.
Leading off debate on the Public Finance Management Bill 2018 in the House of Assembly, Minister in the Ministry of Finance Ryan Straughn was adamant that such a contract made no sense whatsoever.
Straughn said somebody in the former Democratic Labour Party (DLP) Government seemed not to have read all of the existing financial rules – which are reflected in the new Bill – that require the accounting officer in a department to challenge, in writing, an injudicious financial decision of a minister with which he does not agree and cannot defend.
He said the contract, under which the BWA rented the tanks from Innotech to provide emergency potable water supplies to water-scarce districts in northern Barbados at a cost of more than $3 million over five years, was the result of people allowing a lot of nonsense to take place.
The minister noted that it was therefore necessary to clearly outline in the pending legislation the specific roles and responsibilities of all senior public officers, including Cabinet members to ensure accountability.
“So when we reflect on this issue of the water tanks, sir, somebody should have written something to somebody to say that this thing did not make sense. Nowhere is it written sir, that I am aware of now, that anybody raised this as an issue,” he told the House of Assembly.
He insisted that ministers of Government have to take responsibility for their actions, so too must chief executive officers of state-owned enterprises.
“So you cannot say you are going to engage in something that does not make sense and then excuse yourself by feigning you did not know. Much has been represented to me over the last six months where people either forgot there was a rule or some strange thing sir, simply because people allowed a lot of nonsense to take place. Now that we have come to correct a lot of these issues, people now recall what the rules are,” the minister in the Ministry of Finance pointed out.
Straughn warned that ministers who now get involved in the day-to-day running of SOEs must be prepared to face the consequences, including having to pay back money which is wasted or mismanaged.
“If you do [get involved in daily running of a SOE] then you must be prepared to face the consequences. If you direct something to happen, sir, that does not make sense and is not in the interest of Barbadians, then, sir, you’ll have to be prepared to foot the bill,” he warned.
While Straughn suggested that he might accept Government paying in the region of $250,000 to install 100 water tanks that involved the construction of concrete bases, there was no way such work could cost taxpayers millions.
“So even if we wanted to install 100 water tanks and we said they required some infrastructural work to be done, plumbing and all of these things, for 100 water tanks…even if we’re generous and we say that all of that infrastructural work to pour the cement and steel and all of that, for the concrete bases and installation and we say that that cost $250,000, we cannot be paying millions of dollars renting water tanks,” insisted the minister.
He urged public officers to bring questionable transactions to the attention of ministers to avoid a repeat of the type of contract that was entered into between the BWA and Innotech.
“We are not everywhere all the time sir. So when something does not make sense, people have to bring it to the ministers’ attention that this thing isn’t making sense because when you look at the fine details this is what matters. If we continue to engage in that sir, the people would want to know if we’re mad,” Straughn declared.