By NICO SCAVELLA
Tribune Staff Reporter
PROGRESSIVE Liberal Party Deputy Leader Chester Cooper has called on Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis to “spare us all any further headache” and resign for “misleading” the country on the $5.5 billion Oban Energies project, as he accused the nation’s leader of “flamming” Bahamians on the matter.
Mr Cooper, during a PLP branch meeting in Grand Bahama over the weekend, said the “course of action for the prime minister is clear”, as he said Dr Minnis has convinced no one that he knows what he is doing with this project, and neither has he addressed the “very critical issues that Bahamians have raised” over Oban.
Mr Cooper also criticised Dr Minnis’ “blatant hypocrisy” for his declarations on March 20 concerning the government’s stance on Crown cays or land, despite Oban Energies President Satpal Dhunna having revealed the company will lease 690 acres of Crown land from the government to build th refinery and storage facility in East End, Grand Bahama for, as Mr Cooper put it, “a measly $1,700 per acre”.
Mr Cooper also hit out at Dr Minnis for deflecting from “his own complicity and responsibility” in signing a Heads of Agreement for the project with “questionable characters” via his statements to the House of Assembly last week, instead of using the opportunity to “uncover critical details that have been missing from the patchy tale of the Oban Energies scandal”.
Mr Cooper also lambasted Dr Minnis for attempting to accuse the former PLP administration of being hypocritical on the Oban Energies debacle, stating: “You never saw a PLP sign any Heads of Agreement with a convicted felon from Oban, did you?”
Dr Minnis and his administration have come under heavy fire over the past few weeks from the Official Opposition and environmentalists for the lack of consultation over the proposed project, and also that a heads of agreement had been signed without the execution of an environmental impact assessment.
There have also been concerns over the signing of the agreement for the proposed development.
Earlier this month, it was revealed that Peter Krieger, the infamous non-executive chairman of Oban Energies, did not sign his own name on the heads of agreement for the deal that was inked on February 19, but appeared to sign Mr Dhunna’s name instead.
However, the document tabled on March 1 in the House of Assembly by Dr Minnis bore Mr Dhunna’s name, and was dated February 19.
Dr Minnis, in admitting the government’s missteps on the Oban issue, told the House last Tuesday that Mr Dhunna signed the official heads of agreement on February 10 before leaving the country to attend to other business.
And although Mr Dhunna signed the document on that date, Dr Minnis said his administration made the “effective date of the heads of agreement the 19th of February to conform with the public ceremonial signing” it had arranged “in recognition of its promise to keep Bahamians informed”.
Dr Minnis further said that Mr Krieger, who resigned effective March 1, “should have noted that he was signing on behalf of Mr Dhunna” and “signed his name as the authorised representative of the K Family Irrevocable Trust on the ceremonial document”.
The K Family Irrevocable Trust is the beneficial owner of Oban Energies LLC.
Nonetheless, Mr Cooper said Dr Minnis committed “one of the worst violations possible in our parliamentary democracy” by misleading Parliament with his initial February 14 announcement concerning the government’s plans to sign the agreement for the development, which ultimately spiralled into a string of controversies concerning the $5.5bn project.
“…The prime minister announced that a Heads of Agreement was to be signed with Oban Energies on February 19,” Mr Cooper said. “However, on March 20, the prime minister said that Satpal Dhunna, the alleged president of Oban Energies, signed the Heads of Agreement on February 10.
“How is it then that the prime minister, knowing a Heads of Agreement had already been signed four days earlier, found himself telling the House without clarifying anything about a ceremonial Heads of Agreement, whatever that might be, that an agreement was yet to be signed?
“Given the prime minister’s statements, there can be little question that he misled the House of Assembly. Perhaps all that is left to understand is whether his misleading of the House was intentional or not.
“Either way, the course of action for the prime minister is clear.”
Mr Cooper also hit out at Dr Minnis for attempting to brand the PLP as hypocrites in their criticisms of his handling of the Oban Energies debacle during his statements in Parliament on March 20.
At the time, Dr Minnis noted Mr Krieger being chairman and CEO of the company when it came before the National Economic Council (NEC) under the Christie administration. An approval in principle was subsequently signed on November 15, 2016.
Dr Minnis also said on March 30, 2017, a second proposed Heads of Agreement was forwarded to the former Christie administration for review, but was not executed.
And on that same date, Bahamas Information Services (BIS) and the FNM circulated videos of Mr Krieger and former Grand Bahama Minister Dr Michael Darville surveying the “original site” for the proposed development in 2016.
“It was disastrous watching him attempt to insinuate the Progressive Liberal Party was wrong for doing due diligence on Oban. Party members met with people from Oban and visited the site, as any responsible public official would in the discovery stage of things,” Mr Cooper said on Saturday. “Yet, you never saw a PLP sign any Heads of Agreement with a convicted felon from Oban, did you?”
He added: “The people were really hoping that what he had to say would uncover critical details that have been missing from the patchy tale of the Oban Energies scandal. We hoped that he would clear it up or say he was cancelling the deal, for misrepresentations made.
“Instead, he doubled down and what we witnessed was a prime minister covering himself in shame as he sought to deflect from his own complicity and responsibility in signing a Heads of Agreement with these questionable characters, while raising more questions than answers.
“When Minnis was opposition leader in March of 2015, he said at a press conference that, ‘by High Parliamentary Convention there is only one recourse when a Cabinet minister misleads Parliament—he must resign.’
“So I’ll say to Dr Minnis, and really this could apply to a few of them on the other side, maybe you should follow your own advice. Stop flammin’ the Bahamian people. Stop flammin’ yourself by acting like you know what you’re doing, when everyone can see that you don’t (sic). Stop acting like you all brand new.”