By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
A leading waste services provider yesterday slammed the “secrecy” surrounding the Government’s plans for New Providence’s landfill, after a foreign company’s bid to manufacture recycled products in the Bahamas was revealed.
Ginny McKinney, Waste Not’s principal, said Renew Bahamas’ intention to transform solid waste materials from the Tonique Williams-Darling Highway landfill into ‘recyclate products’ at a Nassau-based manufacturing facility went beyond what Bahamian providers had been told about the company’s plans
An advertisement published in The Tribune on Tuesday disclosed that Renew Bahamas, which was last year described by Kenred Dorsett, minister of the environment, as a foreign company, is applying for tax breaks under the Industries Encouragement Act as a domestic manufacturer.
Referring to the advert, Ms McKinney told Tribune Business: “It is not what was laid before us - that those people would be mining, recycling and shipping out [the recycled waste]. I don’t see that that is their arena.
“We now have a foreign company coming in, it’s all very secretive, and they have an advert in the newspaper talking about manufacturing.”
Waste Not was part of a four-member Bahamian consortium, also featuring BISX-listed Bahamas Waste, Impac and United Sanitation, that offered successive governments solutions to the “environmental disaster” at the landfill, and Ms McKinney questioned whether there was a domestic ownership component to Renew Bahamas.
“Everything is so secretive. Nothing has been disclosed, at least as far as we’ve heard,” Ms McKinney told Tribune Business. “It’s not how we should be operating, but it’s how we are operating.”
While declining to name the shipping companies involved, Ms McKinney said firms asked to provide quotes on shipping rates had been required by Renew Bahamas to sign non-disclosure agreements, preventing them from revealing the identities of the company’s principals.
“They’ve been asked to sign non-disclosure agreements. They were asked to sign something saying they would not divulge who the people were,” she said of the shipping companies.
Tribune Business yesterday attempted to track down Renew Bahamas, which does not have a website and is not listed in the phone book, at the Oakbridge House, No.15 West Hill Street, address listed in the advertisement as the ‘factory premises location’.
The address turned out to be the law offices of McKinney, Turner & Company, which is likely Renew Bahamas’ registered office. Despite leaving this newspaper’s contact details at the office, our inquiries were not returned.
Ms McKinney’s concerns, which are likely shared by other local waste services providers, are that Bahamians - and Bahamian equity ownership - are potentially being shut out of profitable, multi-million dollar solutions to the landfill’s long-running problems.
It is also unclear whether Renew Bahamas will be allowed to ‘cherry pick’ the best waste streams from the landfill, leaving the rest for someone else to sort out.
This, in turn, raises concerns as to whether the Government’s proposed landfill solution is ad-hoc, rather than a co-ordinated approach, something that may create more problems than it solves.
“Because it is secretive, we are all thinking the worst,” Ms McKinney told Tribune Business. “Why not just come out with a plan and execute it? We can criticise it, but if they [the Government] can show it has legs, we can go along with it and support it. That’s really the sad part, where we’re always fighting against ourselves.
She described as a personal “thorn in my side” the failure of successive FNM and PLP governments to invite Bahamian providers to discuss potential landfill solutions, saying such meetings only occurred following her personal ‘agitation’.
Returning to her concerns over the lack of transparency surrounding the Government’s long-term plans for the landfill, Ms McKinney contrasted this to the ongoing Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC) restructuring process.
“When you look at the BEC process and how orderly it appears to have been run, and people on the shortlist invited to expand on their proposal......,” she added.
“On the Renew thing, we’ve had no dialogue, seen no plans, and I’d have thought they’d have liked to invite all garbage companies into their plans.”
Ms McKinney told Tribune Business that Renew Bahamas’ manufacturing plans made sense for that company commercially, as those initially announced - sorting, recycling and shipping out - “did not make sense”.
She emphasised that recycling waste materials was “not cheap” and there had to be profits in it somewhere to make the process economically viable.
“We stand ready to help; we want to be a help,” Ms McKinney said of the Bahamian companies’ willingness to solve the landfill’s problems. “It’s our industry, we know a lot and we’d like to be part of the solution.
“We’re not combative with the Government. We’re Bahamians and we want to help. We want to solve what is an environmental disaster, and protect those poor Bahamians struggling with those fumes. I can’t speak for everybody, but I have no sour grapes on my part.”
Mr Dorsett was yesterday said to be off-island, and did not respond to Tribune Business voice mails and e-mails seeking comment.
The Government was reportedly assessing the terms of a five-year contract with Renew Bahamas, involving the construction of a recycling facility at the landfill under a build/own/operate agreement. The deal would also see Renew Bahamas conduct landfill remediation and study waste streams.
Yet there appears to have been no public tender/bid process for this contract, despite the Government receiving at least five-six waste-to-energy proposals that would also have included these elements.
Observers at the time said the five-year contract being offered to Renew Bahamas seemed too short a timeframe in which to recover its investment, particularly in the recycling facility.
They also queried how that facility would work alongside initiatives such as Bahamas Waste’s cardboard recycling, or whether it will compete with that and the ventures other Bahamian companies are involved in.