By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Deputy Chief Reporter
BAHAMAS Power and Light plummeted to a state of uncertainty and chaos yesterday after the entire board of directors resigned following several months of “dysfunction” and purported infighting, stagnating the action needed to turn things around for the electricity provider.
Several sources yesterday confirmed the board disintegrated following a meeting with Works Minister Desmond Bannister, who was said to have demanded the resignations after months of attempting to mediate issues with Chairwoman Darnell Osborne and other board members.
In an interview with The Tribune yesterday, one ex-board member who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said had Ms Osborne resigned long ago, the board would have had no issues in successfully carrying out its work. Under her leadership, the source claimed the board was without direction, leaving much of BPL’s critical issues unaddressed.
While Mr Bannister could not be reached for comment and in the absence of an official explanation from government, Ms Osborne rejected the allegations telling The Tribune her record spoke for itself, but she would not speak to the resignations or what caused them.
However, The Tribune was told three board members – vice chairman Patrick Rollins, Ferron Bethel and Whitney Heastie, BPL’s CEO – resigned first, prompting the minister to demand the remaining members follow suit.
This comes as the state-owned electricity provider continues to grapple with power generation challenges and load shedding, frustrating consumers who have been forced to suffer brutal temperatures this summer.
These resignations have also happened as the liquefied natural gas (LNG) deal with Shell North American has yet to be finalised. Shell is seeking to meet New Providence’s long-term energy needs by constructing an LNG driven power plant at Clifton by 2021.
“I am a champion for good corporate governance, transparency and accountability,” Ms Osborne said in response to questions from The Tribune . “My record speaks for itself. I work on behalf of the Bahamian people and transparency and accountability is how I conduct business.”
She maintained that claims to the contrary were part of an effort to “spin” the true picture of what took place concerning the board and its members.
In recent months, The Tribune was told it became extremely difficult for the board of directors to make major decisions.
“The board was selected with high hopes that they could resolve the surmountable issues facing BPL and the board had a lot of talent on it,” the anonymous source explained.
“Just recently it got difficult for many of the major issues to get through the board. We had 31 megawatts of generation at Clifton Pier that needed a part for board approval and a lot of other critical issues that was just stuck with the board.
“So the minister called the board in today (yesterday) and asked for the resignations and said they were going to appoint a new board.
“There was lack of leadership. The board really turned dysfunctional because we weren’t getting anything (done). Nothing was happening and there was a lot of critical issues that were not being addressed.”
In the midst of uncertainty, the LNG deal still stands, and had nothing to do with the resignations, The Tribune was told.
“There was a lot of unity on the board to get the contract signed, but there were just a lot of little things that was holding up the singing of that contract. The Shell deal is still on,” the source added.
“All and all, the minister was not satisfied with the recent performance of the board after he made several attempts to get over the hurdles and was not able to do so.”
Another board member insisted there was a power struggle between Ms Osborne and “powers that be” in the Ministry of Works.
This struggle began about five months ago, the board member claimed.
“We were getting some interference from the Ministry of Works and instructions were given to some board members to do certain things behind Darnell’s back,” the second former board member claimed.
“That was brought up to him in a meeting and she was scolded for it. This resulted in a turf war between the ministry and the BPL chairman.
“There was also the executive director post issues with there being questions over what his job description was. This was never addressed to the board.
“And then there were issues from the employees when it came to morale. The chairman had enough and she asked the PM to intervene.
“But there were a number of problems and Darnell was not one of them,” the source added.
A new board is to be appointed by this Friday, Bahamas Electrical Workers Union President Paul Maynard said yesterday. Considering there have been issues for a long time, Mr Maynard said he was not surprised the situation came to this.
Meanwhile, opposition leader Philip “Brave” Davis demanded an explanation from the government and questioned the Minnis administration’s plan for power generation in the Bahamas.
Mr Davis said: “Today I reached out to the prime minister when I received a credible report that the entire board of Bahamas Power and Light had either resigned or been dismissed, this coming at a time when the company’s power generating capacity is collapsing nationwide.
“I wanted to hear for myself what on earth was going on with his government. This latest news simply confirms that he and his colleagues do not have a plan on power generation for this country. They also seem to be lurching from one crisis to the next.
“We need an explanation. What is the backstory? Has corruption been uncovered? Is incompetence the problem? I have spoken to the union’s leadership and they are very concerned that the company is rudderless.”