Bannister: Renegotiating oil deal royalties is in country’s best interest

Bannister: Renegotiating oil deal royalties is in country’s best interest
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Public Works Desmond Bannister.

DPM reiterates BPC deal is “airtight”

But PLP chairman says Minnis administration must “man up” on issue

NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Public Works Desmond Bannister said renegotiating royalties in the government’s agreement with Bahamas Petroleum Company (BPC) would be in the best interest of the Bahamian people.

While appearing as a guest on ILTV’s Beyond the Headlines with guest host Genea Noel this week, Bannister maintained that the government does not support offshore drilling.

He once again echoed that the government is following legal advice that it must honor the licenses granted to BPC and is unable to get out of the “airtight” deal.

BPC: “Perseverance #1 — a potentially transformational exploration well.” The well is 90 miles from Andros, and approximately 270 miles from Nassau.

Should commercial quantities of oil be found in The Bahamas, the attorney general has said the government will renegotiate the royalties and the funds will be directed to the Consolidated Fund and the Sovereign Wealth Fund for the benefit of the Bahamian people.

However, when asked how the government is able to renegotiate the royalties but not the agreement itself, Bannister said: “I think any sovereign country will always seek to find a way that benefits its people.

“If your government has the interest of the people, you are going to try to negotiate, you are going to try to do whatever you can for your people. But, legally, they have an airtight deal.

“That means legally our hands are tied. But, every government can be persuasive.”

In efforts to deflect on the matter, Bannister insisted that the Bahamian people must know who granted the licenses, who are the people who have interest in the deal and why the agreed royalty is so low.

However, Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) Chairman Fred Mitchell categorized the comments as “duplicitous, disgraceful and intellectually dishonest”.

“The FNM (Free National Movement) government cannot get away with blaming the opposition for their actions,” Mitchell said.

Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) Chairman Fred Mitchell. (FILE PHOTO)

“They are the government and must man up and own up to their decisions, plain and simple.

“The public confusion they continue to cause with their wanton duplicity, lack of clarity and doublespeak is continuously eroding public confidence.”

Mitchell said the FNM’s explanation on oil drilling is “totally unacceptable”.

BPC was initially awarded five licenses by the PLP Christie administration more than a decade ago in 2006.

PLP Leader Philip Brave Davis has acknowledged his law firm represented BPC for a brief period, but said he severed ties due to what he perceived might be a conflict of interest before the 2007 General Election.

In April of this year, the government extended the validity of BPC’s licenses to December; then in August it renewed BPC’s licenses to April 2021, and in November it re-extended that validity to June 2021.

A Supreme Court Justice has denied environmentalists’ application for a stay of the ongoing drilling exercise — a process that began on December 20.

The drilling exercise is expected to be completed within 45 to 60 days of commencement and does not involve extracting any oil if found.

However, leave to seek judicial review of the government’s approvals for the oil drilling deal has been granted.