By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The Democratic National Alliance’s (DNA) leader yesterday described the failure to fix the New Providence landfill as “one of the biggest scandals of the Christie administration”, together with the Renward Wells Letter of Intent (LOI) controversy.
Branville McCartney, speaking as he drove to investigate the latest blaze to erupt at the landfill, told Tribune Business that the current Government had “five years to do something about it and did nothing”.
He described the failed outsourcing of the landfill’s management to a private company, Renew Bahamas, as a “debacle” that had condemned Bahamians living in close proximity to the site to “further suffering”.
While strong winds were yesterday blowing the smoke and fumes from the landfill fire westwards, Mr McCartney said that should they change direction to the north, Baha Mar’s new owner would “understand first hand” the threat posed to its investment.
“If Baha Mar gets it, the managing director [Graeme Davis] will understand what I have been saying from the beginning,” the DNA leader told Tribune Business.
“No one in their right mind would purchase that resort unless this dump was remediated. He will feel it first hand and understand.”
Mr Davis and Baha Mar’s new owner, Chow Tai Fook Enterprises (CTFE), recently went public with their concerns over the landfill and its potential impact on their multi-billion dollar investment, dramatically increasing pressure on the Christie administration to resolve its woes.
“It’s a huge concern for us, as it is for many businesses and persons,” Mr Davis said of the landfill on ‘The Revolution’ radio show. “The last thing we want is a toxic plume of smoke coming over the golf course on the day we open.
“We’ve already encouraged and spoken to the existing government that they need to address it, and they’ve made a commitment to address it. We’re all concerned, and want to make sure it is addressed and goes away.”
Tribune Business previously revealed that the Government was leaning towards a Bahamian consortium as its best hope for resolving the situation, with members of the 10-strong Waste Resources Development Group (WRDG) having met several times with Prime Minister Perry Christie in recent weeks.
WRDG, whose members include companies such as Wastenot, United Sanitation, BISX-listed Bahamas Waste and Impac, has been asked to come up with a management/business plan for the landfill, together with the necessary financing, “in an extremely short time”.
Prime Minister Perry Christie yesterday confirmed that his government had been in discussions with WRDG but, like Kenred Dorsett, minister of the environment and housing, also said other proposals were being considered.
Sources familiar with the status of the Government’s landfill negotiations yesterday said the talks “seem to be in a holding pattern; there’s no idea where they’re headed.
The weekend’s fires may re-ignite discussions on a landfill solution, and the source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: “It’s [the latest fire] so depressing.
“I’ve been hoping and praying it wouldn’t catch on fire. This time of year, it’s such a regular thing, and with Baha Mar gearing up to open, let’s hope it doesn’t put that in trouble; that’s the whole danger to our economy.
“I was just praying it would not go up again. The Department of Environmental Health Services has been doing the best they can.”
Jubilee Gardens residents were evacuated due to the health and fire hazards caused by the new landfill eruption, which will come as little surprise to those familiar with the facility and current conditions.
The Tonique Williams Darling facility frequently suffers fire outbreaks during the winter/summer dry seasons, when conditions are much more conducive for blazes to erupt.
The Christie administration placed great faith in Renew Bahamas to resolve the landfill’s woes after taking office in May 2012, awarding it a contract to manage the site and generate the necessary revenues to sustain its business model via materials recycling.
However, the landfill management contract was never put out to public tender via a specially designed request for proposal (RFP), unlike the energy sector reform and mobile communications liberalisation processes.
Renew Bahamas, unable to generate the necessary income to sustain itself amid a decline in world commodities prices, and following a fire that rendered its materials recycling facility inoperable for several months, ultimately relinquished its contract and investment late last year.
Mr McCartney said Bahamians never knew what the management agreement with Renew Bahamas “really was before it fell apart”, describing the failure to resolve the landfill’s problems, together with the LOI involving Mr Wells, as “one of the biggest scandals of the Christie administration”.
He also blasted the first FNM administration for failing to properly use a $25 million Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) grant designed to improve solid waste management in the Bahamas, including conditions at the New Providence landfill.
Suggesting that both FNM and PLP governments had “failed to take the dump seriously”, the DNA leader added: “We should be vexed. We should be outraged as a people about what is happening.”