By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Bahamas Power & Light’s (BPL) former chairman was yesterday accused of exposing New Providence residents to power outages by blocking the purchase of critical parts.
Desmond Bannister, minister of works, told Tribune Business that BPL was facing a $10m-plus loss after Darnell Osborne and fellow former director, Nick Dean, refused to authorise the acquisition of equipment needed to restore ten percent of the utility’s Nassau generation capacity.
The minister’s charges came as the battle between BPL’s former board factions intensified, following a day of recriminations, allegations and counter-allegations, as each side sought to paint the other as responsible for the total breakdown in unity that led to their removal last week.
Mr Bannister, who has ministerial responsibility for BPL, disclosed that the state-owned monopoly faced being without 31 megawatts (MW) of generation capacity at its Clifton Pier plant for at least four months - a situation that will cost it $2.7m per month.
He added that Whitney Heastie, who remains BPL’s chief executive, had “made arrangements” to order the turbochargers necessary to restore the affected engine to service but the former board and its procurement committee blocked the purchase.
Describing the situation as “like a nightmare”, Mr Bannister said Mrs Osborne and Mr Dean, who headed the former board’s procurement committee, had refused to authorise the turbochargers’ purchase unless their questions were answered - something that Mr Heastie had attempted to do.
But a three-page document, widely circulated on social media, and which appears to have originated from Mrs Osborne and her faction, gave an entirely different perspective on the row over the turbochargers.
It accused Mr Heastie and former BPL vice-chairman, Patrick Rollins, of attempting to “pressure” or bounce their fellow ex-directors into ordering $4m in turbochargers “without adequate supporting information” on the cost, commercial terms and absent a tendering process.
Refuting these allegations, Mr Bannister told Tribune Business that “personalities were getting in the way of making decisions in the best interests of the country” when it came to BPL and its former Board.
He revealed that the impacted Clifton Pier generation engine had been off-line since May 30, and added: “One of the reasons we have load shedding now is because we don’t have this engine up.
“Mr Heastie made the request for procurement from July 24. Mr Heastie made the arrangement, ordered the parts and the ordering of the parts is still not approved by the procurement committee.”
Confirming that the parts in question were turbochargers, Mr Bannister continued: “They are made to order and take a while to deliver. The quickest we could have gotten it was four months. We have to load shed until we get that engine back into service. We are losing $2.7m a month because of this. It’s a very serious thing.”
The Minister said Mr Heastie had informed him that he sought to satisfy Mr Dean’s concerns, but the turbocharger purchase was “still not getting done”. He added: “Mrs Osborne said until those questions were answered they would continue to block it. It’s just like a nightmare.”
Not surprisingly, the three-page document setting out the case for Mrs Osborne’s Board faction places an entirely different complexion on events, as both sides seek to ‘spin’ the controversy to their advantage in the public domain.
The document, which was sent to Tribune Business, alleges: “The chief executive [Mr Heastie] and deputy chairman [Patrick Rollins] attempted to pressure the Board member in charge of procurement [Mr Dean] to approve a funding request made by the chief executive for $4m to replace two pairs of turbochargers at the Clifton Pier plant.
“The funding request was pushed back by the procurement committee head because there were so many things wrong with it. The request made by the chief executive was for a sum of $4m, which was considerably larger than the $2.8m proposal he presented along with the request.”
Mr Heastie could not be reached for comment by Tribune Business yesterday, but the document says no information was provided to support the $1.2m “gap” between the proposal and funding request.
“Therefore it was not known what full amount BPL would be committed to once the initial payments were made,” it added. “The proposal did not include shipping, duty, VAT or even the cost of installation. The danger was that once BPL had spent the first $4m it could be committed to several million more before the process was complete.....
“The proposal was only valid for seven days. The Board was being pressured by the chief executive to make a $4m decision in seven days without adequate supporting information. What made this time pressure even more suspicious was the fact that the engine under question had failed since March 31; however, the first proposal was not provided to BPL until mid-July.
“The revised proposal sent on July 24 (which included an additional $134,000 fee for expedited delivery) was only good until July 31, thus the pressure to make a quick decision. This timeline makes absolutely no sense.”
The engine failure date differs from Mr Bannister’s March 31, with the document then suggesting that the turbocharger proposal from a single company violated BPL procurement policy that requires competing bids to be sought via tendering.
It also claimed that Christina Alstom, BPL’s chief operating officer, who is in charge of supply chain procurement, and other senior executives, were sidelined over the turbocharger selection and purchasing process.
Mrs Osborne and her Board faction are understood to deny authoring the document, but the level of detail and nature of the allegations suggest it was written by someone highly-placed within BPL who had knowledge of key events.
Mr Bannister, meanwhile, also refuted claims in the same document that Messrs Heastie and Rollins took an “unauthorised first class trip to China” and then attempted to saddle BPL with the bill.
“That’s not true,” he told Tribune Business, explaining that the duo did not accompany him on his trip to Shanghai. “Mr Rollins and Mr Heastie went to Macau at the invitation of the government of China. They went to China several weeks before I went to Shanghai.
“These are very nasty things that people are putting out there. The government of China some people from the Ministry of Works as well as BPL, and the chief executive of BPL was formally authorised to book the trip and ensure that was paid. People get so nasty and petty. I’m so disappointed. It’s very unfortunate.”
The leaked document, though, accused Mr Heastie of departing at the very moment his presence was required in the Bahamas to oversee BPL’s voluntary separation programme (VSEP) that attracted over 300 applicants.
“The purpose of that trip was not disclosed to the other Board members, and remains unknown to this date,” it alleged. “The Board was not provided with a report upon their return to the Bahamas.
“However, BPL was slapped with the expenses for a trip at a great cost to the company. This trip to China has still not proven to have been on BPL business. To add insult to injury, when they received pushback from the chairman when she refused to pay for the trip, the deputy chairman waited until she was out of the country and signed off on the payment himself.”
The welfare of BPL’s customers and staff, and the utility’s operations, appear to have been caught in a power struggle between two competing factions on the former Board - one headed by Mrs Osborne, the other featuring Messrs Heastie and Rollins.
Mr Bannister alluded to this yesterday, saying: “One of the challenges is we can’t let personalities get in the way of making decisions in the best interest of the country. That’s one of the challenges we have had with the former Board.”
The spark that ignited the dispute appears to have been the respective appointments of Messrs Heastie and Rollins as chief executive and executive director, respectively. Mr Bannister yesterday suggested that Mrs Osborne had sought the post granted to Mr Rollins together with a $300,000 salary - a proposal he rejected. Mr Rollins’ salary is $180,000.