By RICARDO WELLS
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE government is finalising several amendments to the controversial heads of agreement it signed with Oban Energies related to a proposed oil refinery and storage facility in East Grand Bahama, according to Labour Minister Dion Foulkes.
Chief among those amendments, according to the senator, is the review and adjustment of environmental clauses, economic terms and several “restrictive” legal conditions now in the Heads of Agreement (HOA).
As a part of his budget contribution in the Senate yesterday, Mr Foulkes insisted that better days were on the horizon for Grand Bahama, starting with revisions to the Oban HOA, which he said would be complete in a few weeks.
It has been four months since the government signed the heads of agreement for the $5.5bn facility.
In that time, the deal has received intense push-back from civic groups, including several of the country’s foremost environmental organisations.
The fallout has forced some within the governing Free National Movement to come out and admit that there were gross missteps involved in the government’s decision to press forward with the deal, ultimately forcing Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis to delay plans related to the project and call for a review.
According to Mr Foulkes, in the weeks after Dr Minnis’ decision, he appointed a sub-committee to analyse the project and the HOA.
“We have made many trips to Grand Bahama,” Mr Foulkes said of the committee, which he co-chairs.
“We have met with many persons in Grand Bahama including professionals who are in the industry… we are relying very heavily on the advice of Bahamian professionals and we are listening to the residents of Grand Bahama with respect to this matter,” he added.
Mr Foulkes said the sub-committee was instructed to review the HOA, with a view to improve the terms in the agreement to ensure better environmental protection to the island of Grand Bahama.
Additionally, Mr Foulkes said special focus has also been given to improving the economic terms in the conditions of the HOA, with a particular focus on making them more beneficial to the Bahamian people.
Further to that, the government’s sub-committee has also been made responsible for revising the “restrictive legal conditions” previously written into the HOA.
“I can report… in a few weeks we will have an amended heads of agreement for Oban that we believe will be acceptable to the Bahamian people at large, but more importantly acceptable to Grand Bahamians and persons living in Grand Bahama, particularly those living in East Grand Bahama,” Mr Foulkes said.
On Tuesday, Deputy Prime Minister K Peter Turnquest revealed in an interview with The Tribune that he was awaiting the outcome of the government’s review.
In March, Dr Minnis admitted his administration has made mistakes with the Oban Energies project.
His admission came one month after questions were first raised about the people fronting for Oban, followed by a ceremonial HOA signing that plunged the administration into one of the most sustained controversies of its first term.
“The Oban Energies LLC project was intended to bring growth and jobs to Grand Bahama,” he told Parliament in March. “In our haste to boost the economy of Grand Bahama, we made a number of missteps in the Oban Energies project. While our heart was in the right place, these missteps should not have happened. We must, we can, and we will do better.”
Dr Minnis said “more comprehensive due diligence” should have been done and “wider environmental consultation” should have been engaged.
According to the HOA tabled in Parliament in March, the government relinquished its ability to terminate the agreement because of what environmental impact assessments may conclude about the safety of the project, prompting an outcry from some critics.
However, the agreement empowered the minister responsible for the environment to force the discontinuation of any “operation or equipment” from the project that causes an environmental infraction.
In addition to Oban, the government has been able to jump-start several other projects in Grand Bahama, an effort Mr Foulkes termed as putting “the magic back” in the island.
Responding directly to assertions by former minister for Grand Bahama, current Senator Michael Darville, on the state of the island, Mr Foulkes said the government is moving closer to “turning things around.”
Mr Foulkes highlighted the government’s efforts with the Ginn Project and the Our Lucaya Resort.
He said: “The industrial sector in Grand Bahama is keeping Grand Bahama going and keeping it alive and the FNM government, the prime minister, the Deputy Prime Minister Peter Turnquest and all of us, we are working closely with all the stakeholders in Grand Bahama to ensure that Grand Bahama is revitalised.”
He continued: “It has nothing to do with politics, this has nothing to do with winning the five seats or losing the five seats, it has to do with the families and lives; people having money to pay bills, send their kids to school, send their kids to college, to pay their mortgage, to pay their rent; that is what this is all about and that is why we are here.
“That is why we are here. It just so happens that if we are successful and we do what we supposed to do, we will be re-elected.
“But that is not why we are doing it, we are doing it because we care as a government,” he said.
Mr Foulkes added: “I am not saying that the PLP didn’t care, don’t get me wrong, we care. I can speak affirmatively for the Free National Movement; and that is why we are doing what we are doing in Grand Bahama.”
Mr Foulkes promised that current State Minister for Grand Bahama Kwasi Thompson, in his upcoming Senate address, would give the specifics on the government’s activities in Grand Bahama.