There was a tense air at NICH today after Cabinet dropped a bomb yesterday and approved the suspension of President Sapnah Budhrani - pending the outcome of an audit. And a review of that very same audit is what had all the NICH directors and senior staff in a meeting until 10:30 last night. President Budhrani led that meeting, going over the 57 page preliminary audit line by line and asking auditor Roberto Matus to justify certain conclusions. At the end of the meeting which ran for 13 hours - multiple sources tell us Budhrani cried - saying that she knows she is being set up and falsely discredited, and those behind it include board members and directors.
Like we said, a very heavy meeting - and one where the internal Auditor was challenged on many of the conclusions in his report - which indicts Budhrani for quote, "improper financial management and apparent lack of concern to address irregularities." The auditor also fixates on Budhrani's alleged misuse of her fuel privileges - but her sympathizers explain that when this is happened it is because NICH provided her with no vehicle when she was director - so she had to use private vehicles to do her work.
But, it seems Cabinet was concerned enough that ministers saw it fit to support putting Budhrani on leave pending the findings of the final audit report. We are told that today, and up to this evening, she was still on duty though, at another meeting of the Board, along with Deputy Prime Minister Faber.
And while no enforced leave has taken effect, ultimately, Budhrani may be just a sacrificial lamb in a larger power struggle in the UDP - and that is between musical Ambassador Shyne Barrow and Minister of Culture, Patrick Faber.
Ambassador Barrow has been vehemently opposed to Budhrani's presidency - and seems to have the ear of his father, the Prime Minister in this regard. Tonight - thanks to leaked documents - there is some background on why the Music Ambassador may have heavy beef with the NICH President. Nine days ago, Budhrani wrote to Ambassador Barrow asking him to account for money spent in music week. She cautions him, quote, "the documentation presented by your office on July 12th for the disbursement of 35 thousand dollars contravenes standard accounting practices. As such kindly provide invoices and the requisite signed cash vouchers for the expenditure and the quarterly disbursement provided to your office." End quote. This we understand is one of many money clashes between the two.
And, we have also seen a leak of Shyne Barrow's contract which says that his work is on a voluntary basis for an annual stipend of 36,000 dollars - which is paid from the consolidated revenue fund.
So, right now, it is a war of leaks on the ground, but, at the top - in a sense - it is also a fight for the leadership of the UDP - and the man who would lead, Deputy PM Faber - has taken a licking on this one: The President who he personally vouched for has been placed on leave under a cloud of suspicion by Cabinet directive. This is after just last week, he equated her high standards and values with his own integrity:
Hon. Patrick Faber, Minister of Education, Youth, Culture and Sports
"In fact the president is answerable to the minister, so whatever it is they accused Miss Budhrani of, they really should be accusing me of."
So, now that Budhrani is being accused of impropriety by her auditor and Cabinet seems to feel it's credible - are they also accusing their own colleague Faber? It's a heck of a thing…and tomorrow the saga will continue when NICH has a press conference at the Marion Jones Stadium.