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THE HOYOS FILE: Between a rock and a hard place


THE HOYOS FILE: Between a rock and a hard place

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IT MAY HAVE SEEMED like a deal made in Heaven, but unfortunately for the private sector side of this particular PPP relationship, it was apparently not cast in concrete.

Now, the company may be feeling that the only thing stuck in the grip of hard-as-rock cement are its corporate legs, as it is slowly being tipped off the boat into deep water.

I am talking of course about the group of companies operated by intrepid entrepreneur Mark Maloney, whose exploits on the local business scene in recent years may even have outshone his deeds of derring-do as a competitive driver at Bushy Park circuit.

For a long time, Maloney seemed to be the Dolittle administration’s “golden boy”, or at least one of them, and the companies he operates and owns in full or in part have been at the forefront of its private-public sector initiatives.

But, due to Opposition Leader Mia Mottley, who, in the course of several speeches in the House of Assembly – including the last couple of Budget replies and her tour de force performance in the recent no-confidence debate – laid charges of sweetheart deals and flouting of Town and Country Planning requirements by some Maloney-controlled enterprises, the public’s perception may have changed.

So perhaps it was Mottley’s pressure that has led in recent months to what appears to be the Government’s decision to distance itself as far as possible from those companies, and perhaps Maloney himself.

The bell may have been rung on the final round by Prime Minister Freundel Stuart. When asked at his presser about the impasse between the Town and Country Planning Department (TCPD) order for Maloney to tear down a building under construction at Spring Garden to store Rock Hard Cement and the entrepreneur’s refusal to do so, Stuart sounded like Moses coming down the mountain with the ten commandments of his administration. They read, from one to ten: Thou shalt obey the law.

The PM’s pronouncements on where his administration stood on companies flouting Town and Country Planning regulations were so rock hard that he himself had to pause and then say legalistic words to the effect, that, of course, he was not singling out any company, and so on.

But the word went out, and if he were not emboldened before, Chief Town Planner Mark Cummins ordered the tearing down of a small shed at a roundabout at Lears that had been ordered removed five years ago. Five years ago.

It was what the old sea captains called the shot across the bow. 

Maloney has also been told by the TCPD to remove several houses which are too close to the gas station at Coverley, itself another controversial project built in the honeymoon days of the Maloney-Dolittle “marriage”. Not to mention the alleged problem with the way the exit from Coverley onto the ABC highway was constructed.

Mark Maloney’s reaction to these Government actions has been that he is a victim and it is Cummins who is acting unfairly toward him and who should resign. He allegedly said this when claiming in the press that he had a right to put up the Rock Hard building near the flour mill on certain legal grounds. So the town planner has taken him to court.

Last week, as his suggestion of a resignation by the chief town planner did not seem to be gaining much traction with the powers-that-be on Bay Street, what with Cummins still going to work every day, Maloney staged a demo.

He trooped out a hundred or so Preconco workers, said to be part of his 1 000-strong workforce, and let it be known that if the permissions he has submitted for various projects were not granted by the Government departments soon, a lot of those workers would have to be laid off.

It seemed to me like brinkmanship. To be sure, private sector organisations almost always issue those kinds of warnings if they feel hard done by due to some government policy, or lack thereof, and only recently we had a version of this from the Barbados Chamber of Commerce & Industry, whose president, Eddie Abed, said that unless something drastic was done for Bridgetown and Speightstown, like making them duty-free centres, they would essentially wither away into commercial irrelevance.

But Abed and the other Bridgetown merchants did not ask any of their employees to show up on Broad Street to press home the point. It would have been unthinkable. But Maloney did think about it, showing up with about 100 workers from one of his companies, Preconco, at a media conference to spotlight their cause of victimisation. 

But you can always tell when people are in the grip of a company culture that sees its own narrative as dominant over even the country’s history, because it often leads them to say the most tone-deaf things without batting an eyelid.

One such instance occurred at that same demonstration when one Preconco employee said that if the town planner could take down Mark’s shed at the Lears Roundabout, why hadn’t he taken down Bussa’s statue at Haggatt Hall, since that also impeded the sight of motorists?

Talk about not only missing the point, but telling off publicly the very people you need to give you your permissions to do stuff. It matters not whether Bussa is blocking our view (which he is not). How do you equate a statue of Bussa, one of this country’s heroes, with a Maloney shed? But no matter how many more bridges (to use a construction metaphor) Maloney may have burned with such public pouting, he has a friend in the minister of contrariness.

Last week, Minister of Commerce Donville Inniss was quoted as saying that the role of the state was not to frustrate but to facilitate. Mr Minister, how about the role of the state being to regulate?

As this saga continues, I wonder: Where did it all start to unravel? What happened to that sweetheart relationship between the Maloney group of companies and the Government that seems now to have soured, leaving Maloney and his group of companies between a rock and a hard place?