By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
A former Opposition leader yesterday said the probe into bribery allegations involving the Defence Force’s new $150m fleet had “absolutely vindicated” concerns she first raised five years ago.
Loretta Butler-Turner told Tribune Business that “Bahamians should be very concerned as to where this goes” since it “can leave quite a blemish on the country’s reputation” should the claims ultimately be proven true. The former Cabinet minister and MP spoke out after The Tribune confirmed that Bahamian law enforcement authorities have been co-operating with Dutch investigators probing whether the Netherlands-based manufacturer of nine Royal Bahamas Defence Force (RBDF) ships paid bribes to secure the deal and similar contracts with other Caribbean countries.
She yesterday said the late Bernard Nottage, then-minister of national security, and other members of the former Christie administration had been “very dismissive” when she voiced fears that the deal with Damen Shipyard Group (DSG) was over-priced - especially since it was paying more for fewer vessels than the last Ingraham government had sought to order.
Mrs Butler-Turner, in particular, argued at the time that $8m was “unaccounted for in terms of costs” although Mr Nottage subsequently said this had been set aside to cover any unanticipated change in the project’s scope of works
Now, urging the government to be “very co-operative” with the Dutch investigation, Mrs Butler-Turner said it needed to apply greater scrutiny when dealing with large multi-million dollar contracts with international vendors to ensure nothing untoward happens.
With the Defence Force fleet claims following swiftly behind the $300,000 Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC) bribe case, she called on the current and future governments to properly protect taxpayers by ensuring “value for money” with all contracts.
“I really had a lot of questions regarding that,” she recalled of the Defence Force fleet deal. “If I’m not mistaken they paid $8m more, and I questioned why that was given that the number of boats was less but they [the Christie administration] were paying a higher amount.
“They were very dismissive and very vague was to why the numbers changed. It raised a lot of concerns for me, and here we are today understanding that some probe is going on into that.”
Mrs Butler recalled that the last Ingraham administration planned to spend $132m on acquiring 11 new Defence Force vessels, but its successor - which ultimately signed the contract with Damen -purchased just nine for a higher $149m sum.
Dutch investigators first raided Damen, the Netherlands’ largest shipyard, in 2017 in relation to the probe. It is understood to centre on $13m in commissions that the Government allegedly paid to a Barbados-based company, NSG Management & Technical Services Ltd, which acted as Damen’s local agent in negotiations with the Bahamas and other Caribbean countries.