By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Deputy Chief Reporter
THE government is still in good faith talks with the principals of Oban Energies over a proposed oil refinery in Grand Bahama and such discussions will continue until the Heads of Agreement can be amended to the satisfaction of the Minnis administration.
Labour Minister Dion Foulkes said this much yesterday, but would not reveal whether there was anything alarming in the draft technical report he received from a government appointed technical advisory committee. He said the final document is taking longer than he anticipated.
Mr Foulkes, who co-chairs the Cabinet subcommittee and this technical advisory group, told reporters outside of Cabinet yesterday Oban officials remained committed to the $5.5bn project.
However, he said, he did not want to get into specifics about the group’s funding and other matters at this point, adding his only mandate was to revise the Heads of Agreement to improve the environmental protection and to improve the economic benefits to the Bahamas.
“We are still awaiting the technical report from the Oban technical advisory committee. It’s taking a little longer than I had anticipated,” he said, “I have received a draft. It’s a fairly comprehensive document but I’ve still not received the final document.”
Asked if there was anything alarming in the draft report he said: “I prefer to have an opportunity to present it to Cabinet for my colleagues to take a look at first and get Cabinet directions as to how to proceed.”
Mr Foulkes said he could not say if this would happen by the time the House of Assembly convenes on September 19 after its summer break.
Of funding concerns, he told reporters: “I prefer not to get into that at this point. Our main focus and my mandate as chairman of the Oban committee is to revise the Heads of Agreement to improve the environmental protection and to improve the economic benefits to the Bahamas.”
He also responded to assertions the government could be stepping away from the deal considering its controversial nature.
“We are in talks in good faith with the principals of Oban and we intend to remain in talks with them.
“If we can amend the Heads of Agreement to the satisfaction of the government then that would be the best outcome.
“They have agreed to enter talks pursuant to the terms of the agreement, which makes provision for amendments to the Heads of Agreement,” he added.
Progressive Liberal Party Chairman Fred Mitchell last month told The Tribune even if the government does manage to sign a new Heads of Agreement with the developer, the hard reality is the deal is “dead on arrival”.
He said it can go nowhere, claiming Grand Bahamians did not support the $5.5bn proposed oil refinery and storage facility.
“I understand that they are working to get a new deal together and they will keep up appearances,” Mr Mitchell said previously. “They will make all the noises and soundings. Perhaps they might even sign a new deal but the hard, cold reality is the deal is dead on arrival. It can go nowhere. Their own people in Grand Bahama don’t support it.”
Asked his views on the government’s communication strategy regarding the controversial deal, Mr Mitchell said the PLP suspected the government’s strategy was “don’t ask, don’t tell” with the hopes that it goes away and dies a quiet death.