By RICARDO WELLS
Tribune Staff Reporter
PROGRESSIVE Liberal Party Leader Philip Davis has called on Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis to immediately remove Bahamas Power & Light from the portfolio of Minister of Works Desmond Bannister and have CEO Whitney Heastie and executive director Patrick Rollins placed on administrative leave until an investigation into the energy provider is complete.
He also said Dr Minnis must quickly indicate who would be conducting the investigation, the terms of reference for the probe and clearly state what interim actions he will take until the investigation is finished.
Mr Davis said recent reports on the BPL saga have “conveyed a culture of cronyism, favouritism, male chauvinistic behaviour and corruption that too many Bahamians find absolutely shocking”.
His comments are the latest in the saga at BPL which culminated in its board being dissolved less than two weeks ago and a new one being appointed.
Mr Bannister, who has responsibility for BPL, has laid the blame for dysfunction at the former board squarely at the feet of its ex-chair, Darnell Osborne.
Mr Bannister told the media he only became involved with the operations of the BPL 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.
It was later confirmed home security system for directors was approved by the board but that Mrs Osborne was the only director who had it installed.
A statement released by Mrs Osborne and two other former board members last Thursday said BPL’s public relations consultant organised some employees to be photographed as part of a project to upgrade the company’s website and other corporate promotions. A request was also made by a magazine for photographs of Mrs Osborne in her home environment, to tout her appointment as the first female chair of BPL, the statement also said.
The statement said an invoice submitted to BPL for make-up services was not exclusively for the services of Mrs Osborne, “whose costs in this bill was $45 or $50”.
“In fact, the $700 or $750 make-up invoice that the minister is now claiming to have been for Mrs Osborne had nothing to do at all with Mrs Osborne, but instead relates to a second group of BPL employees who were photographed for BPL’s website or annual report,” the statement said.
Mr Davis said yesterday it is not the PLP’s intention to throw political jabs over the issue, which he said transcends partisanship.
“To have the three men (Bannister, Heastie and Rollins) maintain executive oversight of the corporation throughout the investigation opens the door to the perception of manipulation of evidence and the intimidation of possible witnesses. We are not seeking to be prejudicial but this is the proper thing to do,” he said.
He also insisted the prime minister not seek to engage private companies to conduct the investigation, which he said should be carried out by the Office of the Auditor General.
“As the review would be conducted by the auditor general, the final report would be shared simultaneously with the full House of Assembly and the government; this is an important safeguard against the government burying the report through a failure to disclose its results,” Mr Davis asserted.
He also highlighted the terms of reference of this review should include a review of the personal expenses of the executive chairman; the alleged unauthorised travel of both the CEO and the executive director; the CEO’s adherence to the policies of the corporation inclusive of hiring, procurement and the directives of its regulator URCA; and the planning and execution of the recently executed voluntary separation programme (VSEP).
Mr Davis noted: “The latter point is especially important as the CEO has publicly stated that the VSEP by design, has left the corporation critically short of experienced personnel in some areas.”
“The rationale for putting the corporation at risk demands answers. In addition, based on projected savings, it would appear that the cost recovery from employee savings due to the VSEP would take three to five years, making the exercise a foolish waste of money.”
In a separate statement yesterday, the PLP’s Women’s Branch also condemned Mr Bannister for his public comments toward Mrs Osborne.
The group said the “public savagery” of the reputation of the former BPL chair at the hands of Mr Bannister was “sexist”.
The statement read: “The issue for us and the country is whether Mrs Osborne conducted her job with probity and integrity. The issue is not her applying facial makeup. For the minister to go there as the first point was a deliberate effort to pollute the issue not by an appeal to the facts but by an appeal to prejudice against women. It seeks to trivialise the issue.
“BPL’s issues have nothing to do with the former chair being a woman. The minister owes Mrs Osborne and indeed all women in this country an apology for these sexist remarks.”
The organisation insisted that if Mr Bannister refuses to apologise, he stands opposed to the government’s push for and support of women’s equality.
When contacted yesterday, Mr Bannister said he has no plans to address the saga moving forward.
He told The Tribune he is operating in accordance with the investigation ordered by the prime minister.