Apology follows blame game
In his wrap up of the mid-year budget communication in Parliament on Tuesday, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis said while government was well intentioned to create jobs and economic growth for the nation’s struggling second city, some things happened during the processing of the Oban Energies deal that should not have taken place.
“In our haste to boost the economy of Grand Bahama, we made a number of missteps in the Oban Energies project,” Dr. Minnis admitted over a month after the controversial “ceremonial” signing of the deal on February 19th
Peter Krieger, the non-executive chairman of Oban Energies, signed the name of the company’s president, Satpal Dhunna, instead of his own.
Dr. Minnis disclosed that not only had Krieger resigned effective March 1, but he also admitted that government also made serious errors and missteps in the $5.5 billion deal slated for East Grand Bahama.
“While our heart was in the right place, these missteps should not have happened,” he said.
“We must, we can, and we will do better.”
The government endured weeks of criticism about the signing and heavy backlash from the public, including criticism from environmental groups who outright rejected the deal.
Many opined that the project not only lacked an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) before getting the greenlight but also pertinent details including its proposed location.
The prime minister suggested that the project will be located opposite the Stat Oil Refinery in East Grand Bahama.
Dr. Minnis also pointed fingers at the Official Opposition for what he said is its “hypocrisy”.
He released a video to media showing then Minister of Grand Bahama Dr. Michael Darville meeting with Oban executives, along with their attorney Obie Pindling.
“The Member of Parliament (MP) for Englerston referred to the principals of Oban Energies LLC as a “cornucopia of crooks”, Minnis said.
“Well, these are the same ‘cornucopia of crooks’ with whom some of her Cabinet colleagues, and the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) government sat down and negotiated.”
Englerston MP Glenys Hanna-Martin objected the assertion and said the prime minister should simply take responsibility for his actions.
“I know where he is going with this Mr. Speaker… and when I speak, I speak on behalf of the Bahamian people. He should just fess up man,” Hanna-Martin said.
Dr. Minnis continued that one of the former cabinet ministers (Dr. Darville) visited the site in Grand Bahama, approved the project and was about to sign a heads of agreement.
However, in an earlier interview, Dr. Darville stated that while he did meet with the principals of Oban Energies, nothing of significance ever materialized.
Dr. Minnis also admitted that the government should have done more comprehensive due diligence and should have engaged in wider environmental consultation.
“The Grand Bahama project must go hand in hand with the protection of our environment, and the conservation of our natural resources,” he said.
“Accordingly, the government will do a more comprehensive review of this matter.”
He said the review will include a due diligence process at the Bahamas Investment Authority (BIA) on all environmental and land use issues. This, he said, will include laws relating to EIAs and consultation processes with residents of Grand Bahama, in particular East Grand Bahamians.
“To improve our process, the government has selected a consultant to advise on the work of the BIA,” Dr. Minnis explained.
“This will include: reviewing the investment policy framework; streamlining BIA’s operational methodologies; the development of a more dynamic approach to investment promotion and facilitation; and redesigning the current organisational structure, and technical frameworks, to allow for an improved effective use of FDI, and national investment, and overall economic growth.”
According to Dr. Minnis, this consultancy will be financed through the Inter-American Development’s Bank’s project “Public Financial Management/Performance Monitoring Reform”.
The consultancy is expected to commence April 4 and will last six months.