THE sorry saga of the Oban Energies deal rumbles ever onwards – and a most curious tale it is too.
The deal – for a proposed $5.5bn oil refinery and storage facility in Grand Bahama - has been one of the biggest stumbles of the Minnis government, the Prime Minister himself going from dismissing concerns raised by the media over the deal as nothing new to finally admitting in his mid-budget speech earlier this year that mistakes had been made in the government’s due diligence.
When the abiding image of the deal remains the signing that wasn’t a signing – with then non-executive chairman Peter Krieger signing with a name that wasn’t his own – it’s hard to deny that ‘missteps’ were made. For a while, it wasn’t even clear what it was that Peter Krieger had signed.
Still, although that photo opportunity backfired, a deal was signed with another Oban principal, Satpal Dhunna, which brings us to where we now stand.
This week, Minister of Labour Dion Foulkes has been making hopeful noises over a revised deal with Oban.
He says Oban’s chiefs are open to discuss amendments to the Heads of Agreement which, if true, is fortunate indeed for the government.
After all, Oban already has a deal – if they wanted, they could merely hold the government to the terms already on paper and signed.
Indeed, if it were not for the diligence of the Press and Opposition to investigate Oban Energies and raise pertinent questions with the government, that would presumably still be the deal that was in place, unchallenged.
Would Peter Krieger still remain involved, despite his involvement in lawsuits involving the misuse of investor monies? Would the project’s then senior vice-president, former car salesman Russell Erickson, still be attached to the deal despite questions being raised over the extent of his claimed experience in the boat manufacturing industry?
The project arrived led by a team with a record that did not hold up to scrutiny, and yet which rapidly slipped past the government’s inspection, so if Oban is now willing to negotiate in good faith and perhaps surrender some aspects of the deal they have already signed, then it will be a very lucky day for the government.
Perhaps it might be considered so lucky that we might wonder exactly why they would show such largesse.
How many of us would voluntarily give up the terms of a deal to go back and get the same thing but on weaker terms? Is it purely generosity on the part of Oban, whose opening gambit might not have led us to take what they say entirely on trust? What are we missing here?
Other members of the Bahamian community remain sceptical of the deal – the Bahamas National Trust continues to speak out about the need for strong environmental protections, the PLP continues to object to the deal and there remains an unease about its transparency. In short, the government has a lot of ground to make up to ensure public trust in the project.
Negotiations may not take place in public while sides try to wrangle out the best deal possible, but the outcome certainly needs to be clearly stated and shown to the public. No smoke, no mirrors, just clarity.
Early on in the saga, Deputy Prime Minister Peter Turnquest said the project could be a game-changer for Grand Bahama. His hope was a project of this size could make a huge impact in a community that desperately needs a helping hand – but after the missteps there have been, any deal done must be clearly presented to the public to blow away some of that smoke that has surrounded the deal so far.
One thing is comforting. Dion Foulkes said this week the main thing as far as the government is concerned is they are proceeding very deliberately.
“We are making sure that we cover all of the bases,” he said. That, at least, is good to hear – even if we wish that had been done from the very start.
There is an old Russian saying, once made popular by US President Ronald Reagan: Trust, but verify.
The government would be well advised to make sure of the latter this time around – because if they don’t, they might find public trust runs short if the second version of the Oban deal doesn’t significantly improve the outcome for the country.