Former BPL board members sue Bannister

Former BPL board members sue Bannister
Former Bahamas Power and Light Chairman, Darnell Osborne.

NASSAU, BAHAMAS – Three former Bahamas Power and Light (BPL) Board members, including the board’s former chairperson Darnell Osborne are suing Minister of Public Works Desmond Bannister for damages for wrongful dismissal, alleged misfeasance and slander.

In three separate writs obtained by Eyewitness News Online, Osborne, Nicola Thompson, a former board of directors; and Roy Nick Dean, a former director and chairman of BPL’s procurement committee, are named as the plaintiffs.

The writs filed in the Supreme Court last Monday, name Bannister as the first defendant.

Attorney General Carl Bethel is listed as the second defendant.

According to the court documents, Osborne, Thompson and Dean are seeking damages and a declaration that Bannister, whose portfolio includes BPL, usurped and interfered with the statutory functions of the boards at the Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC) and BPL at their exclusion as board of directors.

They are also seeking a declaration that the minister’s decision to dismiss them without reasonable cause and without affording them “procedural fairness, is unlawful, ultra vires the Electricity Act 2015 and a breach of the rules of natural justice, procedural fairness and the duty to act reasonably”.

The plaintiffs are further seeking a declaration that Banister deliberately abused and exceeded his statutory power and authority by allegedly unlawfully usurping the functions of the board; intermeddling in the affairs of the board behind the backs of the plaintiffs; issuing specific directions to the board; wrongfully and retaliatory termination “thereby committing misfeasance of public office”.

In their writs, Osborne and Dean are also seeking a declaration that Bannister made retaliatory statements intended to “disparage, embarrass and damage” their personal and professional reputations “thereby committing misfeasance of public office”

Each of the plaintiffs is seeking damages for wrongful dismissal; damages, inclusive of aggravated and exemplary damages for alleged misfeasance; interest; cost and any other relief as the court deems fit.

Additionally, Osborne and Dean are seeking compensatory damages for slander in connection with statements made “falsely and maliciously” in the presence of the media.

They are also seeking an injunction preventing Bannister from “further speaking, publishing, circulating distribution or causing to be printed published, circulated or distributed the same or any similar words defamatory” of the plaintiffs.

Attorney Alfred Sears, QC, represents the former board members.

Bannister announced the board was disbanded last August, claiming the former BPL board members locked horns on almost every critical issue at great cost to the company, which ultimately necessitated new leadership. He did not provide specifics on what those conflicts were.

Osborne, Dean and Thompson refuted the claims, calling them “inaccurate and misleading”.

The former board members also said “political interference” and “continuous disrespect” toward the executive chairpersons were at the root of the board’s dysfunction.

In response, Bannister admitted that there was political interference, but he claimed it was after he learned BPL paid for a makeup bill and home security system for Osborne.

He also claimed that Osborne requested a salary of $300,000.

The former board also included Ferron Bethel, who is also on the new board, BPL CEO Whitney Heastie and Patrick Rollins, who was the deputy chairman.

 

Apology

In a letter to Bannister, dated October 25, 2018, Sear’s wrote to Bannister advising that Osborne was seeking an apology, more than $80,000 for allegedly defaming her and compensation for wrongful dismissal.

It is unclear how much the plaintiffs are now seeking as the writs do not disclose monetary values.

The October letter indicated that Osborne was appointed BPL chairperson in July 2017 for a term of five years, and appointed executive chairperson in January 2018.

According to the letter, the board operated smoothly, but said the minister adopted a “hostile attitude” toward Osborne, beginning in May 2018, regarding the “independence that she manifested on several issues before the board”.

It was also noted that the hostility stemmed from four issues, including the proposed Shell North America Power Purchase Agreement; Osborne’s insistence that BPL receive outside legal counsel before she sign the Shell North America memorandum of understanding; Heastie’s power to exclusively hire and fire BPL employees without board approval; and the appointment of Rollins as BPL executive director without consulting the board.

The Shell MOU for a 270-megawatt, tri-fuel power plant was signed by the new board last November.

Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis promised to launch a probe into the events that unfolded at the power company between the former board members and the minister, however, there was never confirmation that probe had begun despite repeating probing by the media.

 

Resignation

Osborne cut ties with the Free National Movement last September.

According to sources, Osborne, a card-carrying member of the FNM since 2002, resigned over the BPL saga, although Osborne said she resigned to focus on private life.

Sources close to the matter also indicated that she was offered the post of director at the Department of Inland Revenue, but declined.