CWC and the URCA connection Pt 2
By CANDIA DAMES
Guardian News Editor
Chairman of the Utilities Regulation and Competition Authority Wayne Aranha made several stunning admissions a few days ago: URCA never advertised locally for the human resources consultancy position now being filled by a foreigner.
That foreigner, Marsha Lewis, happens to be a former colleague of URCA’s CEO Usman Saadat, who introduced her to the regulatory body in 2009 when he was director of policy and regulation.
Another stunning admission made by Aranha was that Saadat, when he applied for the CEO position last year, had to forward his resume and application for vetting to Lewis, the very woman he introduced to URCA a year earlier.
Lewis left Cable and Wireless Communications (CWC) in Barbados months before she became URCA’s consultant. She landed the consultancy position not long after she formed her company, LCI Inc.
According to URCA’s Three-Year Strategy and Annual Plan for 2011, it is spending $131,000 on HR consultancy, although it is unclear from reading that report how much of that money is being spent with LCI.
For the past two years, Lewis has collected from URCA for her services — services that Bahamian HR professionals may be capable of providing and may be available to provide.
Lewis had something though that they did not have, something that proved of inestimable worth in her landing her URCA contract: A connection to Usman Saadat.
Because the position was never advertised locally, the Bahamian professionals never got a chance.
The Department of Immigration requires positions be advertised locally before foreigners are approved for jobs.
It is also government policy to advertise locally for positions that need to be filled, noted Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham in an interview with The Nassau Guardian over the weekend.
Ingraham said bluntly that URCA broke the rules and he intends to address the matter.
“We certainly do not support that kind of thing,” the prime minister said.
“It’s a standard policy of the Government of the Bahamas that positions are advertised locally and it’s very annoying.” But he said it has to be done.
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Immigration Brent Symonette also told The Nassau Guardian he intends to look into the matter of how URCA was able to bring on a foreign HR consultant without advertising the position.
AN APPEARANCE OF CONFLICT
To be clear, Aranha was not yet chairman when Lewis landed the contract in August 2009. He was appointed weeks later.
But Aranha recognized that as the current chairman it is his responsibility to protect the integrity of URCA.
After National Review dug into this issue last week, Saadat had agreed to appear on the Star 106.5 FM show “Jeffrey” with Jeff Lloyd and from what we understand on the “Sawyer Report” on ZNS with Jerome Sawyer.
But somewhere along the way he and URCA’s board had a change of heart.
Instead, Aranha and URCA’s Director of Policy and Regulation Kathleen Smith made the rounds.
Aranha said there had been personal attacks on Saadat and the decision was made for him not to appear on the shows.
While on Lloyd’s show, the URCA officials acknowledged that there is an appearance of conflict given Saadat’s and Lewis’ former affiliation with CWC.
But they stressed repeatedly that there is no actual conflict.
“I think it’s important for our public to appreciate that conflicts exist all the time,” Aranha said.
“Real conflicts exist all the time, not with URCA but as a general proposition. But they are properly managed to avoid a conflict from resulting in something being crooked or improper…You deal with it by either saying you can’t do certain things or you deal with it by not attending or participating in an issue that arises.”
Aranha said when he first met Lewis in the fall of 2009 when he became chairman “she was known to be a Cable and Wireless past employee.”
“In my mind though, it was never addressed as an issue,” he said.
“But he (Saadat) did make the introduction; it’s agreed and I can understand it now that we’re looking back and assessing it and tearing it upside down.
“Clearly, the organization (URCA), bear in mind, was given a mandate: Go and run effectively, run efficiently. You have the sector policy; you have an act. We want you to report value for money and there was an immediate commencement of activities to assess the gaps in staff if there are any, to look at ways of improving the efficiency, to look at what needs to be done.”
The issue of CWC’s connection to URCA is being raised as URCA reviews the agreement between the Government of The Bahamas and CWC, which is seeking to purchase 51 percent of the Bahamas Telecommunications Company (BTC).
Both Aranha and Smith stressed that in 2009 when Saadat introduced his former CWC colleague to URCA, CWC was not a bidder in the privatization process.
But it was at least in the picture to some extent, as pointed out on several occasions by The Nassau Guardian, and confirmed in privatization documents.
CWC was eyeing the BTC opportunity, which it ended up turning down in 2009. In 2010, it was back in the picture in a major way, emerging as the long sought strategic partner for BTC.
The usually quiet URCA has had to put up a defense on these issues over the last couple weeks, led by its chairman.
The controversy even led Aranha to question whether I as the writer of these articles had an agenda and whether I had ever even spoken to the government ministers who appeared confused last week over which of them is responsible for URCA.
It was pointed out to the chairman that there are many people who have questions about all the connections to CWC, and about how Lewis was able to secure the HR contract.
As we noted in last week’s article on this issue, Lewis is married to Philip Lewis, CWC’s VP for Business Development.
Aranha said he spoke to Mrs. Lewis on a casual basis and recalled her mentioning her husband.
“But that to me was never significant…what was significant to me was on the board’s agenda early was a paper on ‘this is what we plan to do with HR in respect of training Bahamians, in respect of introducing a program to measure performance, to evaluate performance against objectives that are set for staff members so that they would be remunerated in accordance with performance and advancement would be consistent with performance,” Aranha said.
Last week, the chairman and the director of policy and regulation did not appear concerned that the HR position had not been advertised in The Bahamas.
Asked by Lloyd whether it was necessary for URCA to have a foreign HR consultant, Smith said, “LCI, which Mrs. Marsha Lewis happens to be the managing director [of], is only an advisor with respect to human resource issues to URCA.”
Lloyd pressed further: “Is there a need for a foreigner?”
He asked whether the position was ever advertised locally.
Aranha answered, “I think the answer clearly has to be [no] because if it was done through a competitive biding process the trail would have been there.
“I think the answer clearly has to be that the situation was one whereby Mr. Saadat, having worked with her before, being aware of the product, and probably having a pretty good perception of what the pay for performance system for URCA should look like, decided that maybe that was the best person to engage and having introduced her to the then CEO (Michael Symonette) he was so persuaded and I have to believe that the CEO had great respect for her too.”
When URCA advertised other positions in 2010 — including the CEO and director of policy and regulation positions — applicants were advised to forward their applications to LCI Inc. (Barbados).
As mentioned, Saadat complied. The resume was no doubt a familiar one for his former colleague in Barbados and probably came as no surprise to her.
Pressed on whether this amounted to a conflict, Aranha told The Nassau Guardian that everything relating to the hiring of the CEO was done above board.
“The decision to engage the DPR and CEO were made by the board members,” he also said on Lloyd’s show. “The board members had an opportunity to see every resume. We interviewed the finalists.
“Every other appointment has been via a competitive selection process which is absolutely required in the act for the DPR and CEO for certain…We’re trying to develop in URCA a deep bench.”
He also advised that Lewis’ work with URCA is coming to an end, not because of the firestorm surrounding her engagement, but because she has nearly completed what she was hired to do.
With all the controversy surrounding Saadat’s and Lewis’ past connections to Cable and Wireless, Lloyd asked Aranha whether industry players are likely to be concerned.
“Quite frankly, I don’t think the competitors are going to be a big issue with respect to simply Usman,” he responded.
“With respect to the HR person, the advisor, that one may be a greater issue from the perspective of Mrs. Lewis’ husband and his employer.
“With respect to the services being provided by LCI, I’m not sure they’re going to continue much longer in any event as a consultant.”
The chairman added that something had come across his desk that suggested to him that URCA was engaging a Bahamian human resources professional to carry out some work.
“I think it would be wrong to abandon plans for our HR because of the noise we’re getting,” Aranha said.
Smith, meanwhile, seemed to miss the point on the Bahamianization issue.
“Here it is we have an organization to run and we want to be efficient, we want to be effective, we want to be professional,” she said.
“If our positions are filled by Bahamians and they are qualified and they are experienced that is great, but if when we make the call for these positions and Bahamians are not available, are not qualified, are not experienced, the position still has to be filled and if it means that we have to employ foreigners, we will do so.”
In 2009, URCA never made that call when it was looking for an HR consultant.
Bahamas: Cable and Wireless Communications (CWC) and the Utilities Regulation and Competition Authority (URCA)... What's The Connection? (Part-1)