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ALBERT BRANDFORD: Secrecy spawns salacious speculation

ALBERT BRANDFORD, [email protected]

ALBERT BRANDFORD: Secrecy spawns salacious speculation

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The minister said that though the loan had been approved from an international agency, it would not be prudent to reveal the identity of the lender at this stage – Sunday Sun, October 30.

A FEW WEEKS ago in this space, I lamented that Government had failed to observe one of the core principles of a privatisation programme, whether full or partial, in its now aborted deal with private waste haulers – that of transparency.

Governments have an overarching obligation to trust their people and share information about policies and programmes. They do otherwise at their peril, for it ineluctably leads to damaging speculation about their perceived need for secrecy.

This Administration seems to be developing a worrisome penchant for secrecy over what appears to be straightforward activities routinely undertaken by states elsewhere in the full glare of public scrutiny.

Openness and transparency are becoming anathema to this Government.

First, we had Prime Minister Freundel Stuart inexplicably expecting to have a “private meeting” on the site of the controversial proposed Hyatt resort along one of the busiest streets in Bridgetown.

Then we had Minister of the Environment Dr Denis Lowe announcing that Government had secured a $20 million loan from an international agency to buy at least 17 new trucks for the beleaguered, cash- and vehicle-starved Sanitation Service Authority (SSA), but he had the temerity not to reveal the name of the lender.

“The ministry has secured a loan to begin the new injection of vehicles,” Lowe told the SUNDAY SUN. “The vehicles are coming from overseas and that takes a few months, but we are still looking at a number of options.

“What is driving our decision is not necessarily the location from which they are coming, but whether or not the vehicles are suitable to carry out the work that needs to be done in Barbados. We are doing our due diligence.”

Now, if the Government had not “secured” the loan, I could understand why he would be reticent in divulging the name of the “international agency” as that could possibly hamper any negotiations.

But with the loan already in hand, why would it be imprudent to reveal the lender’s identity?

Wouldn’t any reputable international lending agency be happy to have its name broadcast to the world associated with one of the proudest, most progressive developing countries?

That type of promotion used to be routinely found in the press releases of such international agencies, and these days, is now prominently displayed on their websites.

Government’s failure to manage the garbage situation has led to the SSA’s difficulties, the ill-considered private haulers venture, and rumours of 15 “ghost” compactor trucks alleged to have been in the port recently which the speculators are suggesting may soon be added to the fleet.

In between, we had the spectacle of a public servant officiously inserting himself into the miasma of Government secrecy when he disclosed that Barbados would import liquefied natural gas (LNG) to augment local production which is being outstripped by demand but (surprise!): “The name of the source country was confidential”.

The National Petroleum Corporation (NPC) is a statutory body which holds nearly 25 per cent of the equity in the state-owned Barbados National Oil Company, presumably with access to Government’s $26.9 million budget for energy in 2016-2017.

This public officer was perhaps less temerarious than Lowe but still at odds with the transparency principle.

What would lead him to think that taxpayers would not, or do not, need to know how and with whom their money is being spent on a utility, for what is not really an essential service but a luxury since it’s augmented by bottled gas supplies?

And, we’re still trying to grapple with the mysterious pending shipment of river water from Suriname for which both Minister of Water Resources Dr David Estwick and acting general manager of the Barbados Water Authority (BWA) Dr John Mwansa denied approval had been given.

But the Dutch-Suriname firm said Barbados had agreed to this first shipment under an MOU signed in April 2015.

“No such decision has been taken,” Estwick said.

Mwansa, however, said while the BWA was not importing the water, “we are looking at the possibility of using barged water” to help with the current problems.

This secrecy is a creeping, noisome aspect of our governance that does not bode well.

Albert Brandford is an independent political correspondent.