By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Deputy Chief Reporter
EXUMA and Ragged Island MP Chester Cooper railed against the $5.5bn Oban Energies deal proposed for Grand Bahama, telling the House of Assembly Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis has “embarrassed” the Bahamian people by parading a “convicted criminal” as a partner with the government for the investment.
He said Bahamians are asking if the government is “engaged in something untoward” and “selling” the country’s reputation for a “bowl of porridge.”
He also scoffed at Oban’s claim that it will grow the country’s gross domestic product by 10 per cent per annum, saying this has never happened even with large hotel projects such as Atlantis and Baha Mar.
“Oban wrote in yesterday’s papers that the deal will grow the country’s gross domestic product by over 10 per cent per annum Mr Speaker,” Mr Cooper said.
“This of course makes very little financial connect for me and maybe they should have consulted their consultants on this issue.”
The opposition’s finance spokesman said the country’s economy has never grown that much in a single year, adding this claim raises more concerns about the wherewithal of Oban.
He also recounted the various revelations about Oban Energies which have been reported in the press since the heads of agreement was signed two weeks ago. At that ceremony at the Office of the Prime Minister, Peter Krieger, Oban Energies’ non-executive chairman, signed what was said to be the heads of agreement for the deal.
It was revealed by the Nassau Guardian that Mr Krieger did not sign his name, but Satpal Dhunna’s, the company’s president. The Minnis administration has said the signing was a “ceremonial” one.
Mr Cooper said it appears there are two heads of agreement, one signed by Mr Krieger and another, tabled in the House by Dr Minnis, signed by Mr Dhunna.
“We have never seen Satpal Dhunna, we do not know when he might have signed these heads of agreement,” Mr Cooper said. “Though if the heads of agreement tabled in this place in accurate, it was signed on February 19, the same day Krieger signed the other agreement.”
He questioned why Mr Dhunna has not surfaced publicly, and wondered if the investor has even visited the Bahamas.
Earlier in the day, House Speaker Halson Moultrie did not allow Englerston MP Glenys Hanna Martin to raise the matter in the House.
Before the sitting yesterday, Picewell Forbes, Leader of Government Business in the House, Central and South Andros MP, met with the Speaker and verbally notified him of Mrs Hanna Martin’s intention to raise concerns of the oil refinery and storage deal.
While it is unclear what was said in the meeting, when Mrs Hanna Martin attempted to speak on the issue her efforts were thwarted by Speaker Moultrie. He said not only was there no written notice given, but that it was foreseeable her remarks would be provocative and controversial. He added the matter had only been discussed five to 10 minutes before yesterday’s sitting.
Speaker Moultrie said: “With respect to the matter the honourable member for Englerston is seeking to raise, if we examine rule 51(1) a member may propose to the Speaker that a critical matter of immediate public importance be submitted to the House for discussion. The member proposing the matter should present to the Speaker at least one hour before the time fixed upon the sitting of the House a written statement of the matter proposed to be debated.
“If the Speaker determines that it is in order he shall so inform the House.
“Now based on the issue that was discussed with the Speaker in the presence of the member for South and Central Andros only five to 10 minutes before the sitting of the House and there was no written statement. The chair is of the view that the matter is premature. It is provocative and controversial and it is the ruling of the chair that leave is not granted at this time and the proper procedure should be followed as was discussed.”
Following this, as he left the House of Assembly, Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis said he plans to “enumerate a lot of things” regarding Oban Energies when he makes his presentation during the mid-year budget debate.
He was tight-lipped, refusing to speak on the matter or comment when he was pointedly asked whether he was still confident in the controversial deal.
He said: “About the Oban issue? (I will comment) when I speak during my mid-year budget address, I’ve told you that before and that still holds. During the budget address, I will enumerate a lot of things and I will speak about Oban.
“I will speak about Oban issues then, okay?” he said in response to another question about his confidence level on the deal.
Moments before Dr Minnis dodged questions on the matter, Deputy Prime Minister Peter Turnquest, as he wrapped up his mid-year budget contribution, said the government would “by any means necessary” revive Grand Bahama’s economy.
The comment drew gasps from some seated MPs while others mumbled various comments. It was a surprising remark considering recent revelations which have gone public regarding Oban officials.
“Mr Speaker, the Grand Bahama economy is obviously very near and dear to me. The move that the government is making with respect to the Grand Bahama economy are not only intangible but they are tangible,” the minister of finance said.
“Mr Speaker I have heard a lot of commentary in the last couple of weeks about our efforts to move the Grand Bahamian economy forward. But as I said to a reporter, he who feels it knows it, Mr Speaker, because the Grand Bahama economy has been allowed to go to a level it has never ever been and it requires bold action in order to revive it.
“So, Mr Speaker, we are committed to revive Grand Bahama by any means necessary and, Mr Speaker, we are making progress in that regard,” Mr Turnquest said.