By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Deputy Chief Reporter
OFFICIAL Opposition leader Philip “Brave” Davis yesterday criticised the closed-door signing between the government and Disney Island Development Ltd for a multi-million dollar project in Eleuthera, adding it appeared to be shrouded in secrecy.
The Heads of Agreement was signed in private on Thursday at the Cabinet office, but was not announced until days later. “Hard on the heels of the fake and phoney Oban deal, the prime minister sat in secret and signed the Disney deal,” Mr Davis said.
“No cameras or outsiders were allowed save for the government’s minders and mouthpieces. The public found out by a release from the Bahamas Information Services. The PLP would never have gotten away with this and never tried to.”
Mr Davis called for the HOA to be tabled in the House of Assembly to ensure full disclosure, telling media at a press conference the closed door signing demonstrated a failed test of openness and transparency by the government.
He said questions persisted over the deal, including: the environmental impact study; how Bahamians will benefit; and how the landmark will be protected from ruin by poor developmental practices.
Firing back at Mr Davis, the Free National Movement has insisted the government will table the agreement when the house resumes next week.
In a statement last night, the governing party accused the opposition of a “long history of secret-dealing and non-transparency”.
The FNM further claimed there have been several instances when a Progressive Liberal Party-led administration failed to table HOAs, and allegedly engaged in “secretive negotiations”, namely some of the agreements with Baha Mar and the proposed sale of then-Batelco to the phantom Bluewater company.
“Instead of being pleased for the people of South Eleuthera,” the FNM statement read, “the PLP and its leader Philip Brave Davis are attacking a development that will improve the livelihoods of many in South Eleuthera, who will long remember that the PLP failed to help them in the past and are now criticizing a development that will boost their communities.”
The FNM statement continued: “This transparency and accountability by the FNM is in stark and direct contrast to the PLP, whose current leader served as Deputy Leader in a PLP government that was notorious for refusing to table certain heads of agreement.”
Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis announced the signing at a Town Hall Meeting in Eleuthera on Saturday, and a statement followed from Bahamas Information Services.
The signing effectually gives the nod for the construction of a $250m to $400m cruise port and entertainment facility at Lighthouse Point, Eleuthera.
Calls placed to OPM Director of Communications Erica Wells-Cox went unanswered yesterday.
Following Mr Davis’ rejection of the government’s handling of the deal, leading environmental groups also expressed disappointment the HOA was signed “in the dead of night”.
Environmental groups BREEF, reEarth, Save the Bays and Waterkeepers Bahamas issued a joint statement yesterday renewing expectations for public consultations.
The statement read: “We are very disappointed that such a signing was made in the dead of night, but we are pleased that Disney and the Government have confirmed that no construction will take place at Lighthouse Point until the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is prepared, reviewed and approved.
“It is our expectation that Disney will prepare a world class environmental assessment consistent with the best US and international standards, and that Disney and the government will engage in a transparent and public process reviewing the EIA on the impact of the proposed project at this internationally recognised, very special space.
“We are looking forward to the open public consultations that will be carried out as a component of this EIA, as this issue is of extreme import to Bahamians in Eleuthera and throughout the country.”
The deal allows for the conveyance of 190 acres of land along the southernmost point of the property — a $6.29m value — to the government for establishment of a national park.
Core elements of the proposed project, according to a statement from the Office of the Prime Minister, include low density development and sustainable design, public access and economic opportunities for Bahamians.
Under the HOA, Disney has ensured a minimum of 120 Bahamians will be employed directly during the construction of the project.
The OPM’s statement said the cruise line will also create “as many as 150 permanent, sustainable jobs with health benefits in a range of positions for Bahamians once construction is completed”.
Disney has also reportedly committed to aim for an overall ratio of 80 percent Bahamian workers to 20 percent non-Bahamian workers during the life of the construction phase of the project.
However, the statement said this element would be “subject to qualified labour being available and the need to ensure the highest level of technical compliance with international standards.”
The statement added: “This project is line with the government’s plan to expand the economy of our country and economic opportunities for our people by promoting development in the Family Islands.
“I want to assure all Bahamians of the Government’s commitment to act in the best interest of Bahamians, at all times, in an accountable and transparent manner.”