HR experts weigh in on URCA controversy
By CANDIA DAMES
Guardian News Editor
The Bahamas Human Resources Development Association (BHRDA) yesterday raised concerns about the appointment of a foreign HR consultant by the Utilities Regulation and Competition Authority (URCA) as controversy heightened over the matter.
As has been widely reported by The Nassau Guardian, the questions being raised surround URCA’s engagement of Marsha Lewis, who heads LCI Inc. in Barbados, which she formed not long before landing the contract. Lewis is a former executive of Cable and Wireless Communications’ Caribbean operations, as is URCA’s current CEO Usman Saadat who introduced his former colleague to URCA in 2009 when he was the regulatory body’s director of policy and regulation.
URCA Chairman Wayne Aranha has admitted that the agency did not advertise the position locally. On Saturday, the prime minister said URCA broke the rules in failing to do so.
Last year, Saadat forwarded his resume to Lewis for vetting when he applied for the CEO position, Aranha acknowledged. All candidates were required to send their resumes to her.
The association said yesterday it noted with interest that URCA did not release any information about the scope of works for the consultancy job.
“It would be useful to know whether the use of Mrs. Lewis’s firm required specialized HR knowledge and expertise that Bahamian HR professionals may not have had,” BHRDA said in a press release.
“We are advised that comments made by URCA indicated satisfaction with LCI Inc.’s work which included writing job descriptions and formulating a performance appraisal tool. It should be noted therefore that local HR professionals possess expertise in all major functional and operational areas of human resources and business, the least of which is creating job descriptions and performance appraisal tools.
“What is also disturbing to the association is the fact that Mrs. Lewis’ LinkedIn site states that LCI Inc. contracted another HR professional to perform quite a number of the duties that her company was engaged to do. BHRDA’s position is that an experienced Bahamian HR professional could just have easily performed the core HR functions to standards of excellence and similarly outsource some functions if technical telecommunications expertise was lacking in a particular area.”
The association posed several questions to Saadat: While the post was not advertised, did URCA explore the availability of local/Bahamian HR consultants before hiring one externally? Did URCA contact any member/executive of the BHRDA or other representative HR bodies to assist with locating an experienced HR consultant? Was a RFP (request for proposal) published/provided at the time of LCI’s engagement?
The association asked several other questions: Since public attention was drawn to this matter, does URCA still have a contract with Lewis? Will the scope of work now be made public and does URCA have an HR manager presently?
BHRDA said it has formally addressed this issue with Immigration and Labour Department officials and those discussions appear to confirm that there are opportunities to better manage and monitor the process of issuing work permits as well as better monitoring— and more importantly—leveraging expatriate labor in The Bahamas.
“BHRDA sees this as an opportunity to advise the Bahamian public that there are many experienced HR professionals in The Bahamas, many of whom have worked in Fortune 500 and other companies in the U.S. and the U.K. Many of these professionals have also studied abroad and achieved international qualifications and designations which set them apart from others in the profession,” the association said.
The firestorm over Lewis’ engagement has emerged as URCA considers a bid by Cable and Wireless Communications to purchase 51 percent of the Bahamas Telecommunications Company. Lewis’ husband, Philip Lewis, is currently CWC’s vice president of business development as has been pointed out by The Nassau Guardian on several occasions.
The association said it takes no position on either the issue of privatization or the role of Cable and Wireless or URCA’s ability to perform its regulatory functions to the highest standards.
“The association does question the process used to employ the foreign HR consultancy firm hired by URCA,” the press statement said.
“We are pleased by the prime minister’s comments on the matter in yesterday’s Guardian where he stated that ‘all positions should be advertised locally.’ The association believes this is an opportunity for policymakers to ensure that Bahamian laws set out clear guidelines under which fair competition will prevail, as well as enforcement of these laws. It is BHRDA’s hope that the public debate and BHRDA’s questions on this matter cause organizations like ours to be consulted in changing and creating policy in The Bahamas.”
The press release pointed out that BHRDA is a national, non-profit organization and an affiliate of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). BHRDA’s main objective is to provide a forum for human resources and other business professionals to enhance their technical knowledge and skills and advance the cause of workers generally.
The association is headed by Annette Cash and has several vice presidents: Cheryl Bain, Marisa Mason-Smith, Rachel Rolle and Villiemae Black. Its secretary is Chrislyn Benjamin.
Aranha, the URCA chairman, said last week that Lewis’ time with URCA is coming to an end because she has completed the tasks she was hired to carry out. He indicated that it has nothing to do with the controversy, and said URCA plans to engage a local HR professional to complete some work.