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Were Investors Duped Into Doing An Assessment To Win A Contract?

THE Renward Wells‘ $625 million contract signing with a company called Stellar Waste-To-Energy Bahamas Ltd to build a waste to energy facility in New Providence’s landfill has dragged on since early July last year — but still without a satisfactory resolution.

The problem is that Mr Wells, then parliamentary secretary in the Ministry of Works, had no authority to sign any contract even though it was only a letter of intent which bound neither side. But sign it he did without Cabinet approval. The Opposition — and the general public — wanted an explanation. Who gave him authority?

By September, the controversy had been reduced to a game of verbal ping-pong, one side demanding to know who directed Mr Wells to sign — most Bahamians are satisfied that he had a directive from a higher authority — and government spokesmen making all kinds of noises of surprise that hung poor Mr Wells out to dry. Eventually, Deputy Prime Minister “Brave” Davis, then acting prime minister, said that as soon as Prime Minister Christie returned from a UN meeting in New York on climate change, “something” would be done and the “consequences will be known shortly”.

The whole matter was intertwined with political drama with Dr Andre Rollins, a young Turk with problems of his own, threatening to expose the identities of those involved in the letter-of-intent controversy, if his friend Renward Wells were fired over the issue. Of course, no PLP controversy would be of interest if “Big, Bad Brad” did not add his two cents. “Put up or shut up!” PLP chairman Bradley Roberts told Dr Rollins. Describing Dr Rollins as “egomaniacal”, Mr Roberts told him to “shut the hell up”.

Last night, appearing before a disciplinary board of his political peers, it was decided not to go through with the plan to suspend Dr Rollins from the party. For this once, the young dentist would be allowed to slide, although we are satisfied that behind the scenes he was read the riot act. However, from his earlier pronouncements, we don’t think Dr Rollins will be able to follow Bradley Roberts’ advice and “shut the hell up”.

The Wells matter dragged on with Mr Christie on his return from New York telling reporters that he had ordered a probe into the issue and that he planned to address it “imminently”.

That was last year, but as far as Mr Christie is concerned, mum’s the word. In the end, firing day came for Mr Wells, but his political executioner was Mr Davis, not Mr Christie. Mr Christie is yet to speak on the matter.

However, in November, Mr Wells broke his silence explaining that he had signed the Letter of Intent — without Cabinet approval — for the “good of the people.”

Last week, he stood before the House – two months after being fired from his Cabinet post – and said that he had signed the letter without Cabinet approval so that the company would “carry out studies” free of charge to present to Cabinet.

Very few believed his story, because it was so simple that if it had been the whole truth, people questioned why it took him so long to tell it.

Montagu MP Richard Lightbourn, for example, rejected the explanation. Prime Minister Christie, he said, “owes” the Bahamian people an explanation because Mr Wells’ explanation “doesn’t hold water”.

While we agree with that assessment, we are concerned at how business appears to be done in the Bahamas.

Was this company led to believe that by Mr Wells giving it a signed letter of intent, government intended to do business with it and that — if the owners spent money on assessment studies – their company stood at the front of the line to win the contract? Mr Wells explained that he signed the document so that Stellar would have approval from Cabinet to conduct several environmental studies, at no cost to the government, for its proposal to build a waste-to-energy plant at the landfill.

“In order to build a waste to energy plant, you need studies – front end load studies,” he told the House. “All that means is I am going to do the necessary research to make sure that when I build my plant I would not have made mistakes, I would know how much electricity I can generate and where I put the plant, the sub stations, whether the grid can handle it, all of these things must be studied,” he said.

“But before you do any of that, the first thing you have to study is the garbage. So Stellar did an initial study, but you need at least three studies and in this Letter of Intent, Mr Speaker, these studies are what was mentioned and what it was all about. Simply doing the studies and providing the government with better information free of charge, but before they could do that they needed to go get permission from the Cabinet of the Bahamas via a national consultant.

“So what I was doing was sending them to the Cabinet of the Bahamas, that’s it. They cannot do anything without Cabinet’s approval. So I sent them on to do a study to see what was possible. As an engineer, I already know what was possible. Rather than the government spending millions doing the studies, if someone else wants to go ahead and do it, you let them do the studies and share the information.”

Is this how we hoodwink our investors? In other words, the Letter of Intent was the go-ahead to do the studies, making the investors believe that it guaranteed that the contract would be accepted in the end? Was this company duped into spending this money to save the Bahamas government further expenditure? No wonder there is all this unfavourable chatter among investors about doing business in the Bahamas — they all seem to know that they have to tip-toe in, but at all times watch their back.

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