Bizzy Williams & the “Old Colonial System” – by David Comissiong
Our nation will be celebrating 50 years of “Independence” next year, but there is overwhelming evidence that crucial components of the “Old Colonial System” are still very much alive and well in today’s Barbados ! And one particularly odious remnant is that aspect of the “Old Colonial System” that traditionally permitted elite white Barbadian businessmen to be granted and to enjoy preferential business and commercial arrangements that allowed them to feed on the substance of the Barbadian state and the mass of predominantly black taxpayers and consumers.
The sad reality in today’s Barbados is that 49 years after achieving formal political Independence, the predominantly black Government of Barbados is still holding on to old colonial practices and granting amazingly preferential government contracts to elite white Barbadian businessmen- contracts that they would never dream of conferring upon black Barbadian businesspeople!
But if you doubt my assertion, then let us examine in detail one example of this disturbing phenomenon that is at the core of the current public controversy swirling around the Private Waste Haulers and the Ministry of the Environment.
SBRC is a 7 year old company that was established by Mr. Bizzy Williams and four other directors for the purpose of providing waste management services. And it is this company and the truly amazing contract granted to it by the current Democratic Labour Party (DLP) government that is at the heart of the Municipal Solid Waste Tax and Private Waste Haulers controversies that have so wracked Barbados in recent times.
The whole depressing story surrounding SBRC and its contract with the DLP Government can be gleaned from the SBRC file at Government’s “Corporate Affairs and Intellectual Property Office” (CAIPO) situated at Baobab Tower, Warrens, St. Michael. The file is a public file that any citizen is entitled to see upon paying a fee of $5.00. The Company number is 29864, and I would encourage everyone to go to CAIPO and read the file themselves.
The company file at CAIPO will reveal that Mr. Bizzy Williams registered SBRC as a company on the 24th of January 2008. And while this new company might have begun its life with some equipment, it initially had no land on which to carry out a national waste management function, nor the equipment required to set up and operate a national waste management facility. In effect, it was a new start-up company that had to be fitted out.
Furthermore, SBRC had been established in a Barbados in which the task of waste management and disposal had long been a public function entrusted to the Sanitation Service Authority – a statutory corporation that Government created in 1975 and mandated to “provide and maintain suitable places, buildings and appliances for the deposit, disposal or destruction of refuse.”
As all Barbadians are aware, the SSA had long operated a Landfill at Mangrove, St. Thomas, as well as a nearby Depot at Vaucluse, St. Thomas, and both the SSA and private waste haulers deposited refuse at the Mangrove Landfill free of any charge to the vehicles transporting the waste.
It is against this background that SBRC entered the national picture! And the rest of the story- as gleaned from the CAIPO file- is as follows:-
(1) On 11th June 2009, the Government of Barbados (acting through the Ministry of the Environment) entered into a so-called “Take or Pay” contract with this start-up company, by virtue of which Government undertook to lease SBRC some 35 acres of the Vaucluse property on which the SSA depot was located for a 20 year period; SBRC, in turn, undertook to “design, construct and operate” a waste management facility on the said 35 acres of land; and, to seal the deal, Government entered into a legally binding obligation to provide SBRC with a minimum of 360,000 tons of waste to be “managed” each year at a fee of $65 per ton, thereby guaranteeing that Government would pay SBRC a minimum of $22.6 MILLION every year!
(2) SBRC then took this wonderfully privileged “Take or Pay” contract to the First Caribbean International Bank (Barbados) Limited (CIBC), and, on the basis of its wonderful guarantee of future Government payments of at least $22.6 MILLION per year, convinced CIBC to give them a loan of $55 MILLION!
(3) Subsequently, on the 30th of July 2010, SBRC entered into a Debenture/Mortgage with CIBC under which CIBC loaned SBRC the said $55MILLION for the purpose of “providing financing for the purchase of equipment to operate a solid waste transfer facility (on the said 35 acres of land at Vaucluse) under a 20 year Take or Pay contract with the Government of Barbados”, as well as for assisting in financing an existing short term debt.
(4) And the “security” accepted by CIBC for this massive loan of $55 MILLION was as follows:-
(a) a promise by SBRC that when – in the future – it received from Government its 20 year lease of the 35 acres at Vaucluse it would execute a Mortgage of the lease in favour of CIBC;
(b) a debenture over a quantity of stationary equipment, mobile equipment and computer equipment owned by SBRC; and
(c) an assignment by SBRC to CIBC of the revenues or monies payable by Government under the Take or Pay contract- such assignment to last until the $55 Million debt is repaid.
Now, the questions that I would like to pose to all Barbadians are these:- “Which black Barbadian business-person would ever be given a Government contract that entitles them to a guaranteed taxpayer funded payment of $22.6 Million every year for 20 years? Furthermore, which black Barbadian business-person would be given such a contract in circumstances in which their business enterprise is not even established yet? And which black Barbadian business-person would ever find themselves in a position where – on the basis of a Government contract – they could secure $55 Million in funding from a bank to establish the very enterprise on which the said Government contract is premised?”
While my white, black and mixed race Barbadian brothers and sisters contemplate these questions, permit me to finish the sorry story:-
(1) After SBRC finally established its waste management or transfer facility at Vaucluse, the DLP Government (acting through the SSA/Ministry of Environment) prohibited private waste haulers from delivering waste to the Mangrove Landfill and directed them to the SBRC facility instead.
(2) And then in August 2013 Government announced plans to create a new so-called “Municipal Solid Waste Tax” to “pay for the costs of solid waste disposal”. This draconian tax was initially imposed on all Barbadian householders- no matter how impoverished they might have been ! The tax was designed to rake in $51 Million a year, and the rationale given was that the money was required by Government to pay SBRC!
(3) As a result of the popular protests led by Mr. Bobby Clarke and Ms Mia Mottley in the year 2014 the DLP Government ultimately determined that the Tax was too unpopular and that it had to be cancelled!
(4) It was against this background that the DLP Administration came up with the new ploy of requiring private waste haulers not only to take their waste to the SBRC facility, but to pay a new fee of $25 per ton of waste!
This is truly an “Old Colonial” story, the tragic outcome of which is likely to be:-
. the destruction of the business enterprises of many of the small private waste haulers;
. the imposition of additional taxes or fees on ordinary Barbadians for the purpose of paying SBRC; and
. the bestowing upon Mr. Bizzy Williams and his collaborators of a wonderfully successful business enterprise that will continue to bear guaranteed taxpayer funded fruit for many years to come!
Fellow citizens, this is not right! The “Old Colonial System” continues to choke us and to subvert the positive advances that we have made as a nation over the past 49 years. The purpose of this article is to expose the continued existence of aspects of the “Old Colonial System” and to urge all well meaning and patriotic Barbadians to demand their total abolition! Let us all operate on a level playing-field, and let the public purse not be treated as anybody’s cash-cow!