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Still no reason for NHC firing

Albert Brandford

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Minister of Housing Michael Lashley steadfastly refuses to tell Barbadians why he sacked Marilyn Rice-Bowen.
I leave with the knowledge that despite my best efforts and alerts, I could not ensure that a contract be put in place with the contractors CLICO Holdings re: the ongoing work at Constant, St George. – Sacked chairman of the National Housing Corporation, Marilyn Rice-Bowen, in a Press statement after her dismissal on July 31.
BY NOW, dear reader, you too must be persuaded, as I am, that there is more in the proverbial mortar being pounded from different sides by Minister of Housing Michael Lashley and the former chair of the National Housing Corporation (NHC).After three weeks of charge, counter-charge and a lengthy, expansive debate in the House of Assembly, none of us is any wiser about the reason for the abrupt firing of Marilyn Rice-Bowen.The minister had more than ample opportunity to offer an explanation for her removal from the top post at a taxpayer-funded agency whose liabilities are also guaranteed by your Government, but he clumsily dropped the ball and declined to do so.Why didn’t he?This involves a state-owned corporation and a political appointee paid for, and acting on behalf of, the taxpayers who have a right to know not only how their money is being spent, but also what actions are being taken in their name, and why.This is not some privately owned corporation from which people have been sacked and their several publics (read non-shareholders) are not given a reason or an explanation, as has been known to happen.If, as in this case, well-meaning people offer themselves for public service and are accepted, and if for whatever reason their performance in the job does not accord with certain standards, then surely they and the rest of the general public deserve an explanation for their removal.Is that really too much to ask of your elected representatives?You would recall that Rice-Bowen had her appointment summarily revoked on July 31.Subsequently, she held a Press conference and complained of not being given “any direct or indirect explanation as to the root cause of my termination as chairman, nor have I received any prior warning”.Rice-Bowen also laid several charges against the minister, chief among them perhaps being her failure to “ensure that a contract be put in place with the contractors CLICO Holdings re: the ongoing work at Constant, St George”.During last Tuesday’s debate in the House, many of you probably expected the fearless minister to give, as they say, chapter and verse for his action against Rice-Bowen.Disappointingly, he completely ignored her charges, and instead offered up the smelliest red herring (after someone’s anonymous swipe about an insurance contract for the firm which employs her son!) seen in local politics for a long time.“Contract? What contract what, man?” the minister seemed to ask.FYI, dear reader, there is a “finance” contract in place with CLICO.Then the minister assured you that, to use that well-worn cliche, even as we speak, “there have been ongoing discussions with the National Housing Corporation management and legal department, and also personnel from CLICO”.What does that really mean? Are you to infer from that assertion that the elusive “contractor’s contract” is being worked on by the NHC’s management and legal team along with CLICO’s “even as we speak”?In response to Rice-Bowen’s complaint about the absence of a contract for the contractors, the minister delivered himself of the following:“There is a finance contract in place between National Housing Corporation and CLICO and indeed, that contract was signed by the ex-chairman of the board on the 9th of October 2009.”Lashley also said the matter was discussed and a letter was sent to the NHC’s general manager [Lanette Napoleon-Young] on April 7, 2009.“It is signed ‘Borrower’ – National Housing Corporation, ‘Lender’ – CLICO Development, to fund the value for housing construction programme at Constant, St George, pursuant to a contract entered between the corporation and the contract[or].“There is a construction programme describing the houses and it is signed by the ex-chairman and also agreed and accepted by the general manager on the 28/9/09 [September 28, 2009],” he said, adding it represented a commitment and intention to create a legal relationship between both [parties].”This prompted a response from Rice-Bowen, who via last Thursday’s DAILY NATION, challenged the minister to produce that document.“I would like to ask the minister [Lashley] to share the contract with the public, because to the best of my knowledge I don’t recall signing a contract, and to the best of my knowledge a contract was not executed.“I would like the minister [Lashley] to produce the document which he is saying that I have signed to support the fact that he is saying there is a contract in place. I stand by my statement that there isn’t a contract in place,” she said.Rice-Bowen also said some of Lashley’s comments relating to the reported contract and a letter being sent to the NHC’s general manager Lanette Napoleon-Young were inaccurate.Referring to a set of minutes, she said: “At April 2009, the manager of NHC was Vincent Alleyne.”She continued: “Item No. 48 captioned Constant Development Page Eight, the general manager informed the meeting that he was in receipt of a letter from CLICO requesting stage payments for work done at Constant, St George. The general manager indicated that this was in variance with what was agreed to with CLICO and it certainly was not the understanding between CLICO and the board of management.”She added: “In Item 49, the general manager indicated that he met with CLICO and pointed out that neither management nor the board of management intended to vary from the initial agreement.”To stretch your credulity even further, during the House debate, the minister steadfastly ignored calls from the Opposition to follow the time-honoured convention, or custom and practice, in Parliament (where the Standing Orders are silent) and make a document of the House – when it would be available to you, dear reader, as well – his touted “finance contract” with the tacit encouragement of his colleagues.To many of those observing the debate, Lashley appeared to be quoting from a document, which may or may not have been the “finance contract” and then demonstrated his amazing recall of details such as dates and signatures, but the presiding officer (whose name it is best not to mention here) ruled otherwise.So, I ask you, dear reader, who do you believe in this matter?And while you’re at it, ask your parliamentary representative why your business – the people’s business – is being conducted in this offhand, cavalier fashion.Clearly, this particular mortar is going to take a lot more pounding before you, dear reader, can get to the full truth.