By Malcolm Strachan
LAST week’s headlines continued to air dirty laundry at the nation’s power company. Since the appointment of a new board following the “resignations” - as purported by Minister of Works Desmond Bannister - were publicised, the Bahamian people have received a lot more insight into what may have happened.
Truthfully, it has not been a pretty sight to see.
When Bannister initially provided a statement regarding the resignations of the board, he pointed to strained relationships and infighting as the reasons why a new board had to be established. It was not long afterwards the Bahamian public learned three of the board members who were asked to resign refused to do so. Chief among them was the chairman, Darnell Osborne.
In an official statement released by the three board members who refused to resign, they rebuffed the minister’s claims, calling them “misleading” and stating Osborne’s authority was at times undermined as a result of political interference.
Not more than a day later, the works minister fired back at Mrs Osborne, admitting to political interference, but claiming he had to do so to block payments for the former executive chairman’s personal expenses.
Minister Bannister, despite not giving a comprehensive report to the Bahamian people, did not shy away from detailing the former chairman’s alleged exploits – charging the company “hundreds of dollars” for make-up and thousands more to have a home security system installed at her home.
The minister’s comments left tongues wagging all over the nation and caused quite a great deal of embarrassment to the former chairman. True or not, this attempt to embarrass a former board member seemed like a juvenile approach that did not sit well with many people.
As this was already getting out of hand, the prime minister’s decision to meet with the board and promise a probe into the matter has also been concerning.
Surely, the prime minister must not take the Bahamian people for fools, as he is the only person with the authority to ultimately approve the dismissal of a board. The fact he is now announcing there will be an investigation into what actually happened either means one of two things – that he did not have all of the facts, which requires an admission and apology directly from him, or that he, upon seeing more evidence substantiating the former board members’ account, no longer believes Minister Bannister’s version of the events.
Both scenarios ought to raise questions in the public’s mind. If the prime minister is authorising the dismissal of an entire board with only a half-baked story, is he really that irresponsible that he would not do his own due diligence? Further, if Minister Bannister did not give the prime minister all the facts before the decision to remove the board, will there be corrective measures taken against the works minister?
Time will certainly tell.
Additionally, what some of us thought was odd was that although the board was asked to resign, a familiar name was included in the publication of the names of the new board. Ferron Bethel, a member of the board asked to resign as a result of reported infighting, was reintroduced to the Bahamian people as a member of the new board.
Obviously, this led many people to question why he resigned the first place.
In a statement coming at the end of the week, the three board members that have been at the forefront of this BPL saga dropped a bombshell in a statement providing more details as to what took place and refuting much of what Minister Bannister said to the media.
The distraction this has created has been quite negative, but hard not to watch.
At the same time, this issue playing out centre stage at one of the country’s most troubled institutions is timely - perhaps a prompt for an age-old problem to be rectified.
Politically appointed boards have long been a receptacle for tampering and interference, whereby politicians are able to pull strings from behind the scenes.
In a case like BPL, where we potentially have high-ranking government officials playing favourites, we are now able to see just how nasty things can get.
Though the prime minister has promised to investigate and provide a full account, it is doubtful Minister Bannister will face any repercussions.
After all, he was not active publicly during the campaign and he is not an MP for any constituency. Yet, he has found himself in the Cabinet of the prime minister who did not have much fanfare within the party during the election run.
We are not certain, but perhaps this speaks to the level of relationship between the prime minister and minister of works from sitting in a previous Cabinet together. If that is the case, the likelihood the prime minister - despite his claims to be a believer in justice and equity - will publicly lash his colleague is very low.
Instead, we may see the prime minister attempt to draw the attention to a report that may never see the light of day if it is damning to Minister Bannister’s reputation. While we do not know the full details and are not in the position to prosecute anyone based on hearsay, what we currently know does not paint the works minister in the best light.
Case in point, Minister Bannister’s petty attempt to shame Mrs Osborne by claiming she forwarded make-up bills to the company has been proven to be utter nonsense. A statement from the make-up company over the weekend detailing the engagement with BPL for a PR shoot provided clear evidence Bannister’s claims were false.
For this, he owes Mrs Osborne an apology.
Certainly, his gripe with the former chairman seems very personal. However, he could have approached this situation in a much statelier manner. Unfortunately, he took a less than dignified approach that has been since contradicted by evidence and a more substantial rebuttal from the three board members.
The saying goes: “There are three sides to a story; his side, her side and the truth.”
The full truth is now what the Bahamian people want. It is what we require.
Prime Minister Minnis promised we would operate in an era of transparency under his leadership. Now he and Minister Bannister have failed in that regard, allowing this back and forth to take an ugly turn, they will have to step down from their high horses. Unless the works minister can issue a public apology to the former members of the board, the prime minister will have to appease them and the populace by some form of disciplinary action.
Prime Minister Minnis also has to clarify where his confusion took place, or if he was complicit in something untoward at BPL.
In a country as small as ours, your reputation is a form of currency. Claims that were made by both sides can cause one to become defensive. However, this manner of verbal warfare is beneath everyone involved.
A preemptive measure must be taken to thwart issues like this before they can take root. It is no secret that in an organisation issues can arise. However, when there are multiple power players in an organisation – particularly when one is a politician – this kind of mischief can arise. Certainly, the loss of credibility on the part of Minister Bannister should cause the prime minister to evaluate the pros and cons of politically appointed boards. The reality in governance is the actions of your Cabinet do not take place in a vacuum.
Prime Minister Minnis should have learned this from watching the career of his predecessor, who failed to rein in his Cabinet on many occasions. This undoubtedly planted the seed of his political demise.
In the coming days, it will be very interesting to see which direction this goes. Thankfully, the three former members of the board that are involved in the fallout have stated that they only wish to move on from this unfortunate ordeal. Hopefully, the government is of the same mind and will do the right thing so that we all can move on.