WHEN in 2013, then Minister of National Security announced the signing of the letter of intent to buy nine new vessels, he proclaimed it “the single largest investment to date in the Defence Force’s history”.
A sizeable investment indeed – with the government of the day borrowing $149m to pay for the new additions to the fleet. But did the Christie government pay more than it needed to?
Investigators in the Netherlands, where the Damen Shipyard Group – the company that provided the vessels – is based, are probing the possibility of potential bribery.
It was the size of the commissions on the vessels that worried investigators first – with commission fees representing more than 12 percent of the total contract value.
Auditor EY had its own concerns, noting that Damen’s own internal documents said that a contract’s value should be five percent.
So where did the extra seven percent go? That’s the question that has launched a global investigation into Damen, with The Bahamas tangled up in it both because of the contract we signed and as it turns out because the company acting as an agent for Damen, NSG Management and Technical Services Ltd, paid $11.8m in 2014 and 2015 to a company called SRH Consultancy Services Inc, which is registered in The Bahamas. Both SRH and NSG share something in common – Stephen Robert Hobson, a UK citizen who is listed as director/president of the former and is the beneficial owner of the latter.
Bahamian officials were asked by Dutch officials to come to a co-ordination meeting as part of the probe – but it isn’t clear whether any Bahamian attended.
As the investigation proceeds, it is clear significant questions are to be asked. Former State Minister of National Security at the time Keith Bell said he is baffled by the allegations, saying nothing like this was brought to his attention.
This is not the first time questions have been raised about the contract, however, with former FNM deputy leader Loretta Butler Turner demanding answers in 2014 about aspects of the project.
She pointed out that the PLP government was spending more on nine ships than the FNM planned to spend on 11 from the same company just two years before.
She also wanted to know why $8m was added for “changes that may arise during the scope of the project”.
For starters, there should be an accounting of where each part of that money went to – that $8m included.
We hope the government will co-operate in full with the investigation – and be clear with the public about the outcome. Governments here don’t always have the best record on transparency, but the public deserves to know if indeed the then administration paid more than double the expected commission for the project and why.
Mr Christie himself could shed light on that too – he was Minister of Finance as well as Prime Minister at the time – so step forward, Mr Christie, there are questions to be answered.
No more friends, family, lovers or favours
Now that BPL is essentially taking out a $650m mortgage to cover its debts – old and new – one fact is very simple: it is going to have to do the same as any of us, it’s going to have to make its payments.
Electric union chief Paul Maynard was blunt about what that means in turn for customers – there’ll be no more relying on friends, family, lovers and political favours to stop the lights being turned off if you don’t pay up. “The buddy-buddy system is not going to work any more.”
He said that customers who duck their bills will be in for a shock. “If you have a consumer that does not pay their bill, and has not paid for two or three months on that bill, you’ve got to collect. This one and that one going to friends, that has to stop and you have to be serious about it. They have to, or the people lending the money are going to take over the security,” he said.
Of course, it should be the way that people who are able to pay always should be doing so – but that doesn’t always turn out to be the case, and particularly around election time in the past, all kinds of promises have been made, and some individuals have avoided collection of their debts or the repercussions that go with it for years.
The more people who don’t pay under the new regime, the higher the levy will be on those who do – so you won’t just be shorting the Treasury, you’ll be taking money from the pocket of everyone around you.
Of course, there are cases of genuine hardship and the company should do all it can to be accommodating, but if you can pay and you don’t do so, why should you be accommodated?
There’s a lot still to be made clear by BPL about its new charge – and if it brings an end to political favours it will be out of necessity rather than design – but if it brings a silver lining that stops the never-payers from benefiting at the expense of others, we’ll be glad.
We’ll believe it when we see it, though – and given how often BPL has literally left us all in the dark this year, seeing anything at all can be a tricky task.