By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE progress of the $5.5 billion Oban Energies project has not been halted by the disappearance of a file from the Bahamas Environment Science Technology Commission, Press Secretary Anthony Newbold said yesterday.
He could not say for certain, however, if the environmental impact assessment for the project will be affected by the file’s disappearance, though at least one other Minnis administration figure told The Tribune this is unlikely. The status of the EIA is unclear and has been scrutinised in recent weeks.
Mr Newbold refused to explain the significance of the missing file and would not say if it contained proprietary information or trade secrets.
He sidestepped a question about whether the government is concerned that the contents of the file will be leaked to the public, saying officials are simply concerned the file has been stolen.
He expects duplicates of the file were created and are still in the possession of government officials.
Asked about the significance of the file, he said: “I’m not going to go into that. I’m going to let the police do what they’re doing and then we’ll talk about it after the police are done with their findings.”
Asked if the file contained proprietary information, he said: “It contains information about Oban and the deal; that’s important enough. How secret it should’ve been kept is part of the process and if it has something to do with Oban at some point it will be revealed.”
Anyone would be concerned that the file has gone missing, Mr Newbold said, noting the whereabouts of the file is the subject of a police investigation.
“You don’t want people stealing from you, whether it’s the government or in your house,” he said. “The file is missing; that is something you would want to put unacceptable on that.”
Mr Newbold said the government did not err by failing to previously disclose to the public that the file went missing. The matter was revealed in a Nassau Guardian article on Tuesday, where it was said the file went missing from the BEST Commission and the incident had been reported to police more than a week ago.
“There’s nothing about that that’s not transparent,” Mr Newbold said. “If a file is missing you send it to the police. Is that going to stop something, no I don’t think so. (The government) didn’t send out a statement. It just sent (the information) on to the police. If it determined that this was something that would materially affect what was going on I’m sure a statement would have been sent out.”
Mr Newbold also dismissed speculation the Minnis administration is looking to exit the Oban deal in view of recent statements by Cabinet members.
After weeks of relative silence on the project, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Peter Turnquest and Attorney General Carl Bethel both in recent days insisted the government can terminate the Heads of Agreement for the project.
Mr Bethel, speaking in the Senate Monday, said Oban Energies can “pack up and go” if it fails to mitigate the environmental concerns the government raises.
Reacting to this, Mr Newbold said: “They’re just saying because everybody has been saying, ‘how could you guys sign this, you are so dumb and stupid, what’s wrong with you?’ And so the deputy prime minister and the attorney general are saying, ‘listen, these are the facts, this is where we are and if we have to do it this is what will happen.’ That’s about it. There’s no discussion about walking away from the deal.”
Yesterday, Mr Newbold also said Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis has not revealed when he will disclose the supplementary documents related to the Oban Energies Heads of Agreement which would show the specific location for the project and its boundaries, despite the Free National Movement’s (FNM) intense pre-election promise of transparency.
However, he said: “At some point it will be tabled. Has to be tabled. The prime minister is very much aware of all the concerns. He hears what you say. He hears what all of us hear. He will determine when it is he wishes to make another communication on Oban.”