THE Opposition has vowed to do everything in its power to block exploratory oil drilling in the Bahamas before comprehensive regulations are put in place and unless there is full disclosure of any relationship between the oil industry and senior PLPs.
And, with the government’s “rush to drill” – despite its own pre-election promises – FNM chairman Darron Cash claimed there were also worries the government was simply delivering a ‘favour to a financial backer’.
He said in a press release: “The FNM will use every means at its disposal to ensure that the first drill does not penetrate the sea bed until the appropriate legislative and regulatory frameworks are in place and until the Christie administration officials make full disclosure to the people.”
He said Prime Minister Perry Christie and Deputy Prime Minister Philip Davis both delivered services to the Bahamas Petroleum Company before they came to office, while a PLP candidate was the company’s local manager.
“Full disclosure must begin with Senator Jerome Gomez, former country manager for BPC, Deputy Prime Minister Philip ‘Brave’ Davis and Prime Minister Perry Christie, attorney and consultant, respectively,” Mr Cash said.
“Before these senior public officials vote on any issue regarding oil drilling, they must disclose to the Bahamian people everything related to their dealings with any oil or related company that requires approvals from the government to do business in the Bahamas.”
He said these men must disclose:
• terms and conditions of any contracts they had with oil companies
• how much they, their firms and other related parties were paid
• the duration of their contractual relationships
Prime Minister Perry Christie “seems incapable of designing and implementing public policy in a well thought-out and co-ordinated manner,” said Cash.
“The government has announced its intention to allow exploratory oil drilling ahead of putting in place the legislative and regulatory framework necessary to ensure transparency, safety and appropriate returns to the Bahamian people,” he added.
“The Minister of the Environment has given assurances that these are coming. But we must ask, why the rush?”
The move is reminiscent of the government’s “failed attempt to get approval from the Bahamian people” for web shop gaming.
Mr Cash said: “The government was rejected in that effort because of its failure to put in place the necessary legislative and regulatory framework to ensure accountability and transparency. History appears to be repeating itself. With oil drilling the stakes of incompetence in the Christie government are higher.
“While shortcomings in the web shop business may lead to reduced government tax revenues, lack of oversight and proper enforcement in the oil drilling business would be far more catastrophic, possibly leading to significant destruction of our fishing and tourism industries.”
Mr Cash added: “Prime Minister Christie would be aware from the General Election campaign that this is an issue of tremendous concern to the Bahamian people. In view of that, the FNM would have expected a well-considered and well-structured approach from the very beginning. As of now, the government’s haphazard approach has been enormously disappointing.”
Given the national and international attention that the government knew this matter would receive, he said, the Minister of the Environment should not have announced the government’s policy reversal until the proposed legislative changes and the regulatory framework could be disclosed at the same time.
“It is not constructive to the process that the debate has begun in earnest but there is an information vacuum,” Mr Cash said.
In addition to the government’s failure to present details of the legislative and regulatory framework, he said, there was no evidence that the structure to manage this public discussion had been set up within the Ministry of the Environment, he claimed.
There is no information packet available, no statement of government principles, no answers to frequently asked or anticipated questions, no secretariat and no readily available environmental impact studies, the FNM chairman said.
“For a debate of critical national importance that requires a wealth of information, the process is getting started in a completely backwards fashion. This could have been avoided.
“This begs the question – Why the rush? Again!
“In the interest of complete transparency, the Bahamian people deserve to know whether this action by the government is another act of payback to a financial backer of the PLP?
“While we are at the start of this process, the FNM wants the Christie administration to understand that the official opposition will not be a meaningful partner in this important national debate unless and until the members of the Christie administration with past and present ties to oil interests make complete and accurate disclosures of their past financial and other dealings with the principals of BPC and any related party or entity. This disclosure is non-negotiable.”
The FNM urged the Prime Minister to be “very proactive” in managing any public discussion on the issue of oil drilling.
“He would be well advised to outline a clear plan of action and an information/education campaign so that all stakeholders can be informed and then plan appropriately to have their voices heard on this important issue.
“The Prime Minister, as head of the government owes the Bahamian people this elevated level of transparency.”