By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Staff Reporter
OPPOSITION leader Dr Hubert Minnis yesterday declared that his party will not rest until Renward Wells, parliamentary secretary in the Ministry of Works, is removed from his post.
He said the government would be “sorely mistaken” if it expected to use its parliamentary majority to stifle debate over Mr Wells’ alleged unauthorised signing of a letter of intent (LOI) with Stellar Waste-To-Energy Bahamas Ltd to build a $650m waste-to-energy plant at the New Providence landfill.
Dr Minnis ramped up criticisms over Prime Minister Perry Christie’s handling of the controversy, which he said aligns with the US’ critical review of the government’s handling of contracts as noted in its 2014 Investment Climate Report on the Bahamas.
He charged that Mr Wells’ alleged unauthorised signing of the LOI directly infringed upon the portfolio of Minister of Environment Kenred Dorsett and indicated a conflict over the use of the city dump between the two government ministries.
“If this Prime Minister was worth his salt, he would have fired Wells within an hour of Wells’ refusal to resign,” Dr Minnis said at a press conference at the Free National Movement party headquarters. “The fact that he did not fire Wells raises more questions - what did the Prime Minister know and when did he know it?”
Dr Minnis said: “More than half a billion dollars to invest is an awful lot of money to be touted by an investor who has obtained some obviously spurious permission, evinced by something called a letter of intent, in such shady and obscure circumstances. Bahamians will connect the dots.
“The Prime Minister must do his duty, if Renward Wells will not. The Prime Minister must fire Wells and fully explain this sordid situation to Bahamians.”
The controversy has fuelled speculation over whether or not the Bamboo Town MP acted independently.
Dr Minnis pointed to the recent deal struck with Renew Bahamas to set up a waste recycling facility at the city dump and the stated conflict with Stellar Waste, who announced that they planned to move ahead with plans outlined in the LOI.
Dr Minnis said: “There must be a full and frank disclosure of all the circumstances and facts which led to this apparent and embarrassing conflict between two ministries of the same government, between a parliamentary secretary and two ministers of the same government and between two foreign investors doing business with the same government.”
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Works Philip “Brave” Davis and Mr Dorsett have both reportedly expressed surprise that Mr Wells signed the LOI.
It was reported by The Nassau Guardian that Mr Christie had asked Mr Wells to resign; however, no official statements have been made by the Prime Minister on the issue. When questioned by reporters, Mr Christie said that his government would provide answers on the controversy in due course. Mr Davis told reporters that before anything happens, he would seek an explanation from Mr Wells to determine whether he did anything wrong.
According to the Manual of Cabinet Procedure, a parliamentary secretary can be assigned to deal with matters on the behalf of their minister.
Dr Minnis argued that the rules of governance were violated with the signing of the LOI.
“The only question is whether Renward Wells acted alone or whether he was given instructions to act and, if so, by whom?
“The [US] report made it clear that allegations of double standards in the government’s dealing with potential investors gave the distinct impression that the processes had been contaminated by corruption and that the taint of corruption appears to go all the way to the highest level of government,” he said.
“In the event that the government, as it has done all too often in the past, thinks that they can use their parliamentary majority to crush and to stifle debate and full disclosure on this embarrassing instance of lack of transparency, government interference, and conflicts of interest, then they are sorely mistaken.”
In response to speculation over whether the Public Accounts Committee could effectively investigate the issue, Dr Minnis said the body was “working”. He said the opposition would aggressively pursue this matter in parliament and call for an “Opposition Day” to ask questions.
Dr Minnis tabled a list of questions on the issue for Mr Davis in the House of Assembly on July 16.