By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
WORKS Minister Desmond Bannister yesterday revealed he became involved with the operations of the Bahamas Power and Light board of directors in a bid to block the company from paying the personal bills of its former chairwoman, including make-up services and the installation of a home security system.
His rebuttal to claims of political interference in a statement penned by former chairwoman Darnell Osborne and two former board members is the latest in a string of allegations surrounding the shock dissolution of the board last week.
Mr Bannister told The Tribune yesterday he believed the discord between board members stemmed directly from Mrs Osborne’s disenchantment over his decision to appoint his close friend Patrick Rollins to the executive director post after it was vacated by Deepak Bhatnagar late last year.
The works minister insisted Mrs Osborne wanted the post and had gone as far as to offer a salary proposal of $300,000 - which he refused.
He further accused the former chair of repeatedly attempting to take on the functions of BPL’s CEO Whitney Heastie and engaging in a relentless attack on Mr Rollins, whom he stressed was professionally qualified for the post.
“I didn’t set out to attack Mrs Osborne,” he said. “They have been relentless in attacking Rollins, Heastie, and Ferron. I’m in public life, they can attack me.”
“What I was really trying to do this morning is tell them leave Rollins, leave (board member) Ferron (Bethel), leave Heastie, stop the nonsense. I’m fair game, but these things coming out are wrong, they’re attacking people who are giving service.
“If I had agreed to this $300,000, none of this would have come up,” he continued.
“Up to almost the last meeting I met with her in December. She personally said that to me, she said I promised her the executive director post.”
Mr Bannister added: “All this confusion, so much problems, all the board had to do is sit and deal with policy issues and not try to get involved in the BPL day-to-day operations.”
The works minister said he was acting within his ministerial remit when he appointed Mr Rollins and confirmed the salary package for the post is the same as was offered to Mr Bhatnagar.
When asked whether his friendship with Mr Rollins influenced the appointment, Mr Bannister said: “We are good friends but what has influenced me was the CEO indicated he needed someone like Rollins. Those two worked well together.”
Mr Rollins confirmed to The Tribune his annual salary was $180,000 and when paired with his annual bonus, had a total value of $207,000.
The Tribune reached out to Mrs Osborne and former members Nicola Thompson and Nick Dean; however, they all declined further comment.
In their joint statement issued on Sunday, the former BPL board members defended their tenure and said Mrs Osborne in particular was “continually disrespected and undermined”, suggesting chauvinism was at play.
The former board members said outside forces undermined its functionality and emboldened “certain factions” to “run amok”.
Outside Cabinet yesterday, Mr Bannister defended his character and tenure in public life, and underscored he was “brutally honesty” when it came to his ministerial portfolio.
He said he was disappointed by the allegations and found subsequent public commentary “very nasty and very dangerous”.
He sarcastically admitted to political interference in the board, but said it was only in the interest of course correction.
“I admit to political interference because it is my duty to ensure that what happens in BPL, and what happened in BPL under the former administration, does not happen again,” Mr Bannister said.
“And so when issues that came up to me were important for me to deal with and advise the board that they could not continue in that direction.”
Personal bills submitted to BPL detailed by Mr Bannister outside Cabinet include: the installation of a security system at Mrs Osborne’s home and a bill for “hundreds of dollars” in make-up services.
“The chairman, Mrs Darnell Osborne getting security system for her house and getting BPL to pay for it,” he said, “that type of thing is wrong. It cannot be condoned as a member of Parliament, as a minister I cannot accept that type of thing.
“Mrs Osborne to get someone to do her make-up and to give the bill to BPL in hundreds of dollars and ask BPL to pay for it, and in some instances BPL has paid for it and BPL is going to account to me for why they have paid to go to her house and do her make-up and there are many more bills that she has submitted, personal bills.”
The Tribune understands one invoice - which was not progressed - was for a $20,000 donation by BPL to Bahamas Institute of Chartered Accountants of which Mrs Osborne is a recent past president.
Mr Bannister said Mrs Osborne and Mrs Thompson presented the proposal for the former chairwoman to be paid $300,000 for the executive director post, adding he still had the emails.
“These are the type of personal things that I have to admit political interference with,” he said, “because I told them what the salary would be for her, and it was not going to be anything close to that. I’m not going to pay the Bahamian people’s money for that type of thing so I want everybody to be aware that when they make allegations of political interference it is political interference of that nature that I described.
“I’m not going to let the money of the Bahamian people, the funds of BPL, to be wasted and be used in those circumstances. I regret that I have to say these types of things but that is my public duty to the Bahamian people.”
Mr Bannister said he advised Mr Heastie to release all personal bills submitted by Mrs Osborne to the media in a bid to “set the record straight,” adding he has demanded an explanation from the company as some bills have already been paid.
The Tribune understands there was a make-up bill submitted for services rendered in connection with a company branding photoshoot, which included scores of other employees.
However, Mr Bannister last night contended he was referring to a different bill which totalled $700 and reflected make-up services for only Mrs Osborne.
It was also alleged by sources close to the matter that the security system was agreed by the board after Mr Rollins shared an experience of having his car destroyed by fire as chairman of Nassau Flight Services.
Mr Rollins yesterday acknowledged he shared the story with the former chair and confirmed the security system was agreed by the board.
“On getting board approval,” Mr Rollins said, “the chair invited all other board members present to also install security cameras at BPL’s expense if they so desire. No other board member accepted the offer either because they didn’t feel that expense was not justified or warranted.”
Yesterday, Mr Bannister said: “When I say political interference obviously I’m being sarcastic.”
When asked if he had interfered in any other way, he said: “Absolutely not, and I’m not going to go back and forth with this. But BPL is (subsidiary of) a public corporation owned by the Bahamian people and the minister must ensure that he looks after your interests. So when things are going on I must know. There is a chair for BPL and there is a CEO.”
Mr Bannister added: “The CEO is responsible for operations in that organisation. It cannot be that the chair seeks to take over the job of the CEO as Mrs Osborne has tried for time and time again, that cannot be. Mr Whitney Heastie is very capable of doing what he is assigned to do, and Mr Heastie is doing a great job. He is to report to the board and the manner in which he has done his job is to be evaluated by the board. The chair does not take over the duties of the CEO.”