By MALCOLM STRACHAN
LOCAL media exploded last week upon the startling revelations surrounding Oban Energies’ non-executive chairman, Peter Krieger. The government’s initial announcement of a $5.5bn oil refinery project in Grand Bahama initially seemed like a proactive step towards getting Bahamians back to work. However, as last week unfolded, the citizenry has become widely sceptical and Prime Minister Minnis, who seems to can’t win for losing and is yet again looking as though he is out of his depth.
Truly, it is sign of how desperate the times are in this country. When we have to set the bar lower and lower to obtain foreign investment and create employment opportunities, we are playing a dangerous game. This time, thanks to excellent investigative journalism at the local dailies, the cards are laid out on the table. However, what’s more troubling is that with all of the blemishes plastering Krieger’s record, one must wonder: how could any government take him seriously? Further, how can any investor choose him to serve as “an ambassador” and signatory for their company, as he called it?
Talk about public relations suicide!
Then, once we learned more about the web of lies weaved by the principals of the company listed on Oban Energies’ website, the saying that the prime minister’s mother told him comes to mind: “Birds of a feather, flock together.”
Of course, when asked about it, Krieger sought to admit that the website had some mistakes. However, some mistakes when playing in the big leagues, which a $5.5bn oil refinery project certainly indicates, simply cannot be afforded. Moreover, they should have raised red flags all around for the Bahamas Investment Authority (BIA) and the last administration.
Naturally, it begs the question: how tight is our vetting process and what warrants a proposal being flagged, if not the prospective investor’s business reputation?
This information was not locked away in a time capsule that was just dug up. Nor was it hidden away in an Egyptian pyramid to be stumbled upon by treasure hunters. Rather, it was easily accessible through the click of a button on a Google search; a mere tap to send a call to a reference on a mobile phone to see if these investors truly cut the mustard.
Regardless of what the government is saying, there is no possible way due diligence could have been executed in this process. Furthermore, if the BIA insists there was, then that process is greatly flawed.
Quite honestly, it is absolutely embarrassing, and yet again, the desperation by our governments to achieve political points supersedes good governance on behalf of the Bahamian people.
What’s more disconcerting is the attitude by some in government when the media asks fair-minded questions. The prime minister’s response to reporters when questioned about the Oban deal depicted a man who was impatient and defensive, while he insisted we wait on the Heads of Agreement.
Unfortunately, what the prime minister is missing is that we’re infuriated the deal has even gotten this far under the circumstances.
Albeit surprising, Prime Minister Minnis far too often seems to forget what led him to his recent good fortune of becoming the nation’s leader. Perhaps, we should remind him again it was due to a few distinct variables.
Chief among them was the fact the electorate grew tired of a government that felt that it could run the country as if it was their own, and not the Bahamian people’s. Conversely, what we do not have the patience for is a government that succeeds the former with promises of transparency, accountability and being a “people’s government” continually making decisions that are met with outrage by guess who – the people - for not adhering to its promises.
We simply do not understand the line of thinking that it would be okay to present a deal to the Bahamian people with an individual with such a stained past on the face of it. For the prime minister not to be concerned about the optics of an image with him placing his signature on a Heads of Agreement with Krieger after knowing of his past is absolutely baffling, to say the least.
Then again, only in The Bahamas (and perhaps other Third World countries) would our politicians seek to justify our penchant for lowering the bar.
One must wonder, if a known sex offender, or rather an individual accused of child molestation was sent on behalf of a foreign company wanting to invest in an institution to teach toddlers sign language, would there really be a discussion here?
Doubtful. Yet, here we are. Krieger, though admittedly a victim of his own immaturity and with a different yet clearly catalogued set of flaws, may be able to secure the funding for this project and all is well pertaining to the environmental impact assessment, is this really the calibre of investor the prime minister wants to welcome in the country? Particularly, given his assault on the former government when he was the Opposition leader, his antennas should have been the first to go up.
It is blatant hypocrisy on his part and that of those in government who, along with the prime minister, stand by this deal. We live in a country with laws that will tarnish a young man’s record for as little as a joint – no opportunity to get a job, much less approach another country as the face of an energy company to spearhead a project with major implications on the people and the environment. Yet, the prime minister can stand in front of reporters and tell the nation this is a good deal simply because it provides jobs.
The dangers of making deals with the devil are high stakes and announcing this deal to the people of The Bahamas – particularly the people of Grand Bahama - has now placed the government on the hook to deliver the jobs promised by the end of 2018 and beginning of 2019.
In the grand scheme of things, nobody will remember the Peter Kriegers of the world if this deal falls apart. They will only remember the man next to him – Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis.
It would be beneficial for him to become cognizant of that reality and ensure each step he makes, each signature he writes, each interview he gives - is perhaps one that can either build or destroy his legacy.
Those who have the prime minister’s ear do him no favours by massaging his ego. He needs critical thinking individuals who are unafraid to challenge him and let him know when he is going off course before the ship he pledged to steer sinks permanently into an abyss of failure and ineptitude.
Much more than myopic deals that create jobs in the short-term, we need a prime minister with an articulable vision that is sustainable for future generations.
To be fair, we can applaud the prime minister’s efforts to encourage investment in The Bahamas. However, we still want a high standard to be set.
Quality over quantity always produces the more sustainable outcome.