By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The Renward Wells ‘Letter of Intent’ controversy further “validates” why many investors “keep shying away” from the Bahamas, the Democratic National Alliance’s (DNA) leader said yesterday.
Branville McCartney told Tribune Business that the situation epitomised why international businesses “continue to be reluctant to do business in a country that lacks transparency and accountability”.
And he revealed to this newspaper that the LOI counterparty, for which his Halsbury Chambers law firm incorporated one of its entities, was then “directed” to take its legal work elsewhere.
While the Prime Minister likely wants his decision to fire Mr Wells as the Ministry of Works’ parliamentary secretary to bring an end to the affair, Mr McCartney indicated that will be a forlorn hope.
For he suggested that “something stinks” over the Government’s, and Mr Wells’s, failure to disclose the events that led the latter to sign a $650 million Letter of Intent (LOI) with Stellar Waste-To-Energy for a renewable energy facility at the New Providence landfill.
The DNA leader reiterated his belief that Mr Wells had fallen victim to an internal power struggle within the Christie administration over what was the best renewable energy-related solution for the New Providence landfill.
And Mr McCartney also repeated his challenge to the Prime Minister to sue him, again alleging that Mr Christie knew Mr Wells had signed the LOI “from day one”.
He suggested that the biggest losers from the situation were the Bahamian people, as the Stellar LOI - and subsequent fallout - had brought renewable energy initiatives to “a standstill”.
Calling on Mr Wells to divulge all he knows to the Bahamian people, Mr McCartney urged him to resign his seat as MP for Bamboo Town if he failed to do so.
“First and foremost, there is still something that stinks around the signing of that LOI, and the fact that Mr Wells hasn’t told us the circumstances surrounding that,” Mr McCartney told Tribune Business.
“We still, as a Bahamian society, don’t know what happened regarding the signing of that LOI. The Prime Minister is obligated to come to the Bahamian people and let them know what happened regarding the LOI.”
The timing, and minimal content, of Mr Christie’s decision to fire Mr Wells suggests this is unlikely to happen from the Government’s perspective - at least not willingness.
The dismissal statement was issued in a period when Parliament is in a six-week recess, and when the Opposition Free National Movement (FNM) is more focused on internal matters. Either way, the timing is not made to measure for enhanced focus and scrutiny of the LOI.
Yet Mr McCartney again reiterated his position that the Prime Minister knew of the Stellar LOI from the moment it was signed.
This has been denied by Mr Christie, who previously threatened to sue Mr McCartney for defamation over these assertions.
No legal action has been forthcoming, and Mr McCartney yesterday said: “He [the Prime Minister] cannot tell me he did not know about the signing of that LOI. I still maintain that the Prime Minister knew about the signing of that LOI from day one.
“There is a battle between the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister as to who should run and manage the landfill,” he added.
“I am familiar with some of the proponents on both sides of the divide there; the two entities vying for the landfill. That is why I can say with confidence there is a split between the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister, and the bottom line is that this is not benefiting the Bahamian people.”
Philip Davis, who is also minister of works, denied similar claims of a ‘split’ between himself and the Prime Minister when these were made in the House of Assembly by Dr Andre Rollins, the Fort Charlotte MP.
However, there is evidence to suggest that two different factions in the Government were backing different solutions for the New Providence landfill.
One, which included Mr Wells, favoured the Stellar project. The other group, though, backed Renew Bahamas, which has been awarded the landfill management contract and is seeking to use recycled materials to develop a manufacturing plant.
Mr McCartney said the Government’s failure to ‘come clean’ over the LOI, and explain how it came to be signed, “validates” the concerns expressed by the US government several months ago on the “lack of transparency and accountability” in awarding government contracts.
Arguing that the situation “continues to cause damage”, he told Tribune Business: “It causes us to be looked down upon as a country.
“Persons are now reluctant, and continue to be reluctant, to do business in a country that lacks transparency and accountability.
“It does not help us to move forward on attracting foreign direct investment into this country. People keep shying away as a result, and everything has come to a standstill on renewable energy.
“People are reluctant to do business here because of under-the-table dealing and, as a result, the Bahamian people are not benefiting.”
While the renewable energy part might not be quite correct, given that Renew Bahamas is seemingly moving forward with its landfill plans, and the Government has unveiled its renewable energy self-generation plans, LOI controversy continues to overshadow efforts in this area.
Tribune Business previously revealed that Stellar Consulting was incorporated by Halsbury Chambers Corporate Services - the corporate services arm of Mr McCartney’s law firm.
But the DNA leader said yesterday: “We were now allowed to do any work for them [Stellar] otherwise. They were told that [legal] work must go elsewhere.”
Mr McCartney did not elaborate on who told Stellar to divert its legal business, or where it went, although he and Halsbury Chambers did not do any work with regard to the $650 million plant proposal or negotiations with the Government.
Meanwhile, calling on Mr Wells to speak out, Mr McCartney said: “He can give all the answers, and if he does not, he not only needs to be fired as parliamentary secretary, he also needs to be fired as a member of the House of Assembly.
“He needs to step down from his seat. Bamboo Town is calling for his resignation. I was in there last night, and am going back.
“He [Mr Wells] sat there quiet as a lamb, when as leader of the National Development Party he was speaking out against these things,” Mr McCartney added.
“I cry shame on him, a young man who has potential. He has proven to be the same old, the same old. I call on him now to explain what has happened, and to tell the Bahamian people, if he wants any type of credibility.”
The Government’s protracted, clumsy handling of the Wells situation, and failure to explain the background to the LOI signing, has fuelled the impression that it has something to hide.
And, given that Stellar’s principal, Dr Fabrizio Zanaboni, himself said the LOI was non-binding on the Government, questions have to be asked about the need for total secrecy and whether the matter has been blown out of all proportion - despite Mr Wells seemingly exceeding his authority, and breaching government conventions and protocols.
Many observers are suspicious that Mr Wells has been sacrificed to protect others,
Stellar executives declined to comment on the current status/progress of their project, and whether the Wells’ controversy and his subsequent dismissal would harm its prospects, when contacted by Tribune Business yesterday.
Jean-Paul Michielsen, Stellar’s chief operating officer, indicated the company might call a press conference in the coming days, but offered nothing else.