NASSAU, BAHAMAS – Opposition Leader Philip Brave Davis has suggested the government has in effect prevented the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) from carrying out its function by “hiding behind” a ruling made by former Speaker of the House of Assembly Dr. Kendal Major during the Christie administration.
He was responding to questions from Eyewitness News Online on what progress the committee has made with its probe into matters related to Oban Energies’ project for a $5.5 billion oil refinery and storage facility set for East Grand Bahama.
“We are not doing anything,” said Davis, the chairman of the PAC.
“We haven’t been able to get around to it.
“I have a draft interim report that I want to lay [on the table of the House of Assembly] before I move any further because of their hiding behind this ruling of the former speaker, which I think is being taken out of context.”
Davis did not expound on the specific challenges the committee has faced.
In May 2015, the then speaker ruled that the PAC could not carry out further inquiries into the auditor general’s report on the Urban Renewal Small Home Repair program, which revealed a number of irregulates and management deficiencies.
Major advised the House that he directed the PAC to “stay its hand”, and said because the report was not tabled in the House of Assembly, it could not “attract the scrutiny of the PAC”.
Major ruled on the matter weeks after then-Attorney General Allyson Maynard-Gibson determined that the PAC’s move summon then Urban Renewal Co-Chairs Algernon Allen and Cynthia ‘Mother’ Pratt, after they refused to appear before the PAC, was “illegally improper” because the auditor general’s report had not been laid before the House.
Then PAC member Peter Turnquest, the now deputy prime minister, said Major’s ruling represented another “nail in the coffin of democracy of this country”.
Last month, Centreville MP Reece Chipman resigned from the PAC, citing a lack of action of the part of the committee, and the House of Assembly itself being the “biggest issue in Bahamian politics”.
In his letter to House Speaker Halson Moultrie, Chipman noted that the PAC can only review reports laid before the House, adding that most of the reports are “substantially behind and irrelevant at this time”.
As has been widely reported, the government signed an agreement with Oban on February 10, but the public was not notified at the time.
The Minnis administration held a signing on February 19 with Oban Energies Non-Executive Chairman Peter Krieger, in what was later called a ceremonial signing.
The government signed the agreement without an environmental impact assessment in place – a major point of contention for environmentalists.
Last June, Davis said the PAC had jurisdiction to probe the Oban deal.
The government has appointed a negotiation team to rework a new agreement with Oban that it hopes will be a better deal for Bahamians.