By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
THE Prime Minister's former political nemesis yesterday slammed the Government's "really egregious missteps" over the Oban Energies project, branding it "a very fishy deal".
Loretta Butler-Turner, who led the 'coup' to oust Dr Hubert Minnis as Opposition leader pre-general election, told Tribune Business that "desperation" to spark greater economic growth may have clouded the Government's judgment over the proposed $5.5 billion oil storage terminal/refinery project.
Pointing out that Dr Minnis had "lambasted" his predecessor, Perry Christie, for the exact same failings, Mrs Butler-Turner questioned why the Government "had the gumption to move forward" in giving final approvals when the two previous administrations had not.
She expressed doubts over whether Oban Energies will be able to raise the necessary financing, and queried why the developer had chosen to send Peter Krieger, its non-executive chairman, to sign the Heads of Agreement when details of his previous legal troubles were easily accessible on the Internet.
Mrs Butler-Turner called for the Government to conduct a thorough "review" of the east Grand Bahama project before proceeding any further, adding that its seeming lack of due diligence and transparency to-date made it appear little different from the Christie administration.
"To be quite honest with you I'm truly, truly disappointed and surprised at the missteps that have taken place over this whole Oban situation," the former Montagu MP told Tribune Business.
"They're [the Government] really desperate to have foreign direct investment, something of a sizeable nature, to offset the lack of growth and economic stagnation in the country. That does not preclude the fact that one has to have due diligence and persons in place.
"The reality is this: We all want something great for our Bahamas, but we want to know we have a government that's different from the one we've just kicked out of office, and without questions and dark shadows hanging over it."
Mrs Butler-Turner said the Government had permitted Mr Krieger, who described as "someone of questionable background", to enter the Prime Minister's Office and sign a multi-billion dollar Heads of Agreement despite apparently knowing of his previous legal troubles.
She said Dr Minnis's disclosure two days later, where he confirmed the Government knew Mr Krieger had pled guilty to criminal charges, and settled civil ones, over the alleged misuse of investor monies, suggested that the Bahamian people had been 'kept in the dark'.
"The Prime Minister has lambasted Perry Christie and them for exercising bad judgment in office, and here we are," Mrs Butler-Turner blasted. "You have a man of questionable character in the Office of the Prime Minister executing the first real, substantial deal. As far as I'm concerned: Who is Peter Krieger?
"If it's such a huge project, when does the principal behind this send a non-executive to sign on their behalf? There's something about this that doesn't pass the smell test. It's a very fishy deal."
Mr Krieger previously described his role as "more like an ambassador", and suggested he would be stepping away from his role as Oban Energies' public face now that the Heads of Agreement has been signed - a process the recent controversy appears to have accelerated.
Tribune Business sources suggested Mr Krieger was acting as the representative for a major investor in Oban Energies, with much of the company's funding thought to be coming from his wife's family and father-in-law.
Mrs Butler-Turner, though, joined the ranks of those questioning whether Mr Krieger signed the Heads of Agreement on behalf of Satpul Dhunna, Oban Energies president, whose name is printed on the document. Mr Dhunna was not present for the signing, and is understood to have been in the UK.
And the former MP, who was unable to remove Dr Minnis as FNM leader, also challenged the Government's decision to sign the Heads of Agreement before conducting an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).
"There certainly does not seem to be an escape clause for the Government even if we have a negative EIA," Mrs Butler-Turner told Tribune Business. "There are a lot of questions around this project, and it seems like somebody really needed it to happen. It looks like it was executed without due diligence and just put out to the Bahamian people.
"The reason I'm surprised is because when a decision of this magnitude has to be made it has to be made collectively as a Cabinet. To have that many people sitting around the Cabinet table, and to come out with a document such as that with all these glaring missteps, I'm very surprised.
"You have the Attorney General, who is not new to Cabinet, Brent Symonette, a former deputy prime minister, and one or two others with Cabinet history besides the Prime Minister," the ex-MP continued.
"It goes back to the level of due diligence and commitment to the Bahamian people. It almost seems as if they are as callous as the previous administration. It's sad, the impact this is going to have on the community, if it goes through. It's a very poor reflection on our government. The steps that have happened since... Oh my God, it's really egregious.
"What is it about this Cabinet that so uniquely qualifies them to determine that a project two previous administrations did not have the gumption to move forward with; what qualifies them to say this is a good project? Before the Government moves further forward, this needs to have an absolute review."