By INIGO 'NAUGHTY' ZENICAZELAYA
Once again - to paraphrase the Red Queen from Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass - it takes all the running Bahamians can do to keep in the same place.
After countless years of outcry, marches, campaigns and thousands of votes to deliver a supermajority, it seems the government we have now is bent on operating exactly like the government we fought so hard to get rid of.
A Waste of Energy
Oban Energies, the company that the Minnis administration saw fit to sign a heads of agreement with for a ‘multi-billion’ dollar oil refinery deal might as well change their name to ‘NOban Energies,’ because this proposed project has more red flags than an FNM rally.
For starters, a blockbuster report published in Wednesday’s edition of this newspaper revealed that Peter Krieger, Oban’s non-executive chairman who claims he is really just Oban’s “ambassador,” has faced a Securities Exchange Commission(SEC) lawsuit that alleged he misappropriated more than $3.7m in investor funds.
In that lawsuit, the SEC claimed “that Mr Krieger himself used $160,000 of investor monies to pay credit card bills for ‘dental visits, taking his pets to the veterinarian, designer clothing, jewellery, and high-end home entertainment systems”.
On top of that, (oh, there’s more!) The Tribune report also revealed that CLICO sister company, British American Insurance Company (BAICO), alleged Mr Krieger misappropriated millions of the company’s funds for his own personal use.
In that case, BAICO claimed $8.7m was transferred in 23 transactions to accounts belonging to Mr Krieger and his wife, Marla.
Apparently, the first case against Krieger was settled and the latter was dismissed due to a “technicality”.
But all these felonious allegations make for quite the colorful resumé.
Two other principals at Oban, it’s president, Satpal Dhunna, and senior vice president, Russell Erickson, both have “colourful” histories as well.
A former employer of Mr Dhunna, CreditSights, allegedly fired him for “gross misconduct”.
Of Mr Erickson, a former boss, Sharon Feyhl, was quoted in the article as saying, “He was a salesman for us we but we fired him for lack of performance. He was basically doing nothing – as little as humanly possible to get his nice pay cheque.”
Mrs Feyhl also said, “He didn’t come across as the smartest guy around. To think he’s running a billion dollar oil business, I mean, wow. It’s ridiculous.”
The boss of a third man, Mr Mark Michel, who was listed on Oban’s website under “Finance,” was quoted as saying, “I am not in love with the fact that Mark is on their management team website. I don’t know why that would be.”
Mr Krieger then said that listing Michel was “incorrect”. Then Oban scrubbed all personnel names from their website.
What an “interesting” bunch the government has hitched Grand Bahama’s (and the country’s) wagon to.
I mean, am I the only one wondering how “not smartest guy around” suddenly became smart enough to enter into a multi-billion dollar deal with our government?
I could go on about how very, very, very sketchy Oban Energies (and by extension the FNM) looks in light of these revelations, but I’ll just borrow a phrase from Mrs. Feyhl and say, ‘Wow! It’s ridiculous!”
At a glance, this deal the government has signed (on the behalf of Bahamians) with Oban Energies looks like a fiasco waiting to happen.
Look a little closer, though, and you’ll see it’s already a fiasco.
For one, we learned that the Minnis administration has not received an Environmental Impact Assessment.
I guess it’s in the mail.
Also, Mr Krieger revealed the bank backing them will “produce a letter for the government this week indicating its financial support for the project.”
Which begs the question, how does a competent government sign a $4.5 billion dollar heads of agreement without a letter from the bank already in hand?
The answer is, it doesn’t.
And, as if sensing what is about to come down the pike, Prime Minister Minnis is already trying to shift the blame for his government’s incompetence on previous administrations.
According to the PM, “These are matters that were dealt with by former governments... they had done their necessary due diligence; we completed the heads of agreement.”
Say what, now?
“Former governments” never signed an HOA with Oban, the Minnis government just did.
And since the “government of transparency” failed to table the heads of agreement in Parliament this week as promised, Bahamians are left with more questions than answers.
One thing seems clear though, someone messed up “big time” on this one.
My advice to PM Minnis (who is stupefyingly defending Oban instead of quickly “cutting bait” and moving on) would be to fire whoever brought him this “deal”. And then fire every person who had oversight, advanced it, touched it or even breathed on it.
If he doesn’t, I have a sinking feeling this brewing scandal will make the “LOI” incident look like a joke. It will make the “Baha Mar bankruptcy scandal” look like a joke. It will make the FNM look like a joke.
And right now Bahamians are not in the laughing mood.
Dr Minnis came in claiming he would “clean up” corruption and rid us of dumb, amateurish agreements made on our behalf. But so far, he’s having a hard time finding a broom, a dust pan, or even a washcloth.
To the Moon and Back
To add insult to injury, in his defense of Oban Energies, our Prime Minister said some...(how should I put it?)... strange things.
When pressed by reporters on his confidence in the company he said, “Ask me of my confidence? …No, I don’t want to say what I want to say. I’m on TV. But the heads of agreement will explain everything.”
Don’t you just love the clear, concise, eloquent, communications we get from some of our leaders?
Dr. Minnis followed that with, “I think it’s essential for the heads to be tabled next week so you can read it in its entirety before you start jumping off the edge left, right and centre. Wait for the heads of agreement and see who signed the heads of agreement, etc, explains a lot of what you’re looking for now. That’s why it is essential before jumping off a cliff and asking questions, it’s essential to review the heads of agreement then you come after me, but don’t come in the blind.”
Apparently ready to do battle with his “friends” in the media, the PM came armed with an analogy: “It’s like you sitting on the moon with a fishing line, dropping that line and trying to catch one fish on earth; you don’t know where the hell it’s going throughout the universe.”
Are you confused? Because I’m confused. What does the moon have to do with this and where have we heard a random moon reference from a politician before?
Oh, I remember! Our last prime minister once said something about looking to the moon and seeing his family’s faces. Our leaders sure seem fascinated with the moon.
Ironically, the picture PM Minnis painted of “sitting on the moon and casting a fishing line” happens to be the company logo of DreamWorks Animation, an American animation studio that is a subsidiary of Universal Studios, a division of Comcast through its wholly owned subsidiary NBCUniversal.
Unlike some other companies this government may be looking to do business with, you can google the DreamWorks company website and find that as of October 2017, its feature films have grossed $14.5 billion worldwide, with a $417.8m average gross per film.
In other words, they’re legit, with a valuation of over $3.8 billion.
So instead of wasting the Bahamian public’s time and “yucking up our vexation” with these “dubious” deals, the government should go find us someone “sitting on the moon.” Go find us a DreamWorks, and end this brewing nightmare.