Prime Minister Hubert Minnis
By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
AS pushback mounts over the proposed $5.5 billion Oban Energies oil refinery and storage facility in Grand Bahama, the Minnis administration remained tightlipped over the deal yesterday.
The Tribune understands Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis has been gathering all relevant information on the project in an effort to present a full response during his presentation to the mid-year budget debate, and to prevent being “blindsided again”.
However, up to press time, it could not be confirmed when Dr Minnis was expected to deliver his contribution to the House of Assembly.
Dr Minnis has previously said he plans to “enumerate a lot of things” regarding Oban Energies at that time, and government sources yesterday told The Tribune that the prime minister was fully aware of the public backlash in response to the deal.
It has been nearly two weeks since it was revealed that Peter Krieger, the non-executive chairman of the $5.5bn project, did not sign his own name on the heads of agreement for the deal, but signed the name of Satpal Dhunna, the company’s president.
Since controversy surrounding the project reared its head last month, Mr Dhunna has responded to critics twice - first via a paid advertisement, and second via the release of his letter to the Office of the Prime Minister explaining his absence at the ceremonial signing.
On Monday, the Bahamas National Trust said it was “greatly concerned” about the location of the proposed facility in Grand Bahama, saying it cannot “envisage any scenario” where it could support the controversial project.
The organisation also suggested it has been kept in the dark about the deal, despite the high risk oil refineries pose of air, aquatic and soil pollution.
In a release, the organisation - which manages the national park systems - said it has formally requested an opportunity to review the full Heads of Agreement signed by Oban Energies last month and also asked the government to make public the proposed site of Oban’s facility and all the information it now has on the company.
Environmental advocacy group Save the Bays and environmentalist Sam Duncombe of reEarth have also spoken out against the proposal.
Yesterday, Press Secretary Anthony Newbold repeatedly declined to comment on the matter, and could not confirm when Dr Minnis will address Parliament.
Mr Newbold has held a dozen Tuesday briefings since he was appointed to the post in May last year, an average of 25 per cent or one briefing per month. He has not held a press briefing for several weeks, leaving some observers to question if the government wanted to avoid pointed questions about the Oban backlash.
He explained yesterday the weekly briefing is dependent upon Cabinet approval, or a specific directive by the prime minister.
“My briefings are based on Cabinet conclusions,” Mr Newbold said, “that’s primarily what those meetings are about. Once the Cabinet has arrived at a conclusion, they would say this is something we’re confirmable with and you need to tell the Bahamian public, other than that if I’m directed by the prime minister to make a comment on something or if there is something happening within a specific ministry.
“Other than that, I won’t have a briefing. We’re not at the American model where the press secretary comes every day and the press asks questions. I’m a creature of Cabinet, my post was created by the Cabinet and that is the general parametre. You have briefings based on conclusions that come from Cabinet and under direction of prime minister, other than that you have no right to go out there and say anything,” he added, “that’s pretty much where it is.”