By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Tribune Chief Reporter
THE leader of the Progressive Liberal Party has urged the Minnis administration to stop “pointing fingers” when it comes to the oil exploration deal and potential royalties left in place by a previous PLP government.
As he responded to Attorney General Carl Bethel’s criticism of those royalties, Philip “Brave” Davis told the government to renegotiate the royalty scale if officials see fit and insisted that the agreement by a former PLP administration conformed to the statutory regime at the time.
In the Senate on Monday, Mr Bethel announced the government’s intention to renegotiate the scale of royalty fees if commercial quantities of oil are found in the country.
He further accused the Christie administration of “gross negligence” by “short-changing” the Bahamian people out of higher royalties from the deal it left in place before being voted out of office.
Mr Bethel’s most recent comments also sparked intense criticism yesterday from environmental activist Sam Duncombe who said the situation highlighted the government’s “miserable failure”.
“Governance is about priorities and choices,” Mr Davis said yesterday. “We’re not the government, they are. This project and the activities are being executed under their administration.
“Whatever they deem they need to do to respond to whatever they think they need to respond to they ought to do it and stop pointing fingers.”
Asked his thoughts about a renegotiation, Mr Davis said: “If he feels that he can renegotiate then he should renegotiate it and get the deal that he and his government would wish to have.
“If he’s not satisfied with the deal that he claims that we struck then he should negotiate the deal that he would wish to strike.”
Responding directly to Mr Bethel’s claim that the scale of royalties left in place were the result of gross negligence, Mr Davis branded the comments “sophistry”.
“That is all sophistry. Gross neglect? The whole regime is governed by statute and if he could point to any provision of the statute that may have not been followed in the negotiations then he should do so.
“What was agreed to by the administration then was in conformity with the statutory regime in which it stayed.”
For her part, Ms Duncombe said she was disgusted by the start of Bahamas Petroleum Company’s exploratory well drilling in Bahamian waters.
She said: “I am honestly disgusted at the government that they’ve essentially lied to us over and over again.
“I am tired of the blame game,” the activist added as she spoke of Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis’ assertion that he does not support drilling, but the government had no choice but to honour the oil exploration deal as it met an agreement in place.
“Both parties and both governments have had more than enough opportunity to get out of this oil deal. The fact that the prime minister came out and said legally we were bound to this, why is it that during COVID they asked for help from everybody? Everybody give in your comments, everybody tell us what you think needs to be done.
“In this particular instance when they already told us they were not going to go ahead with this the Cabinet has agreed and we were told this by the minister of environment that the Cabinet has agreed that there would be no offshore oil drilling. He told us that in a meeting on May 17, 2018. There was no question, there was no maybe it’s going to happen. It was categorically it’s not going to happen.
“So, on the one hand we’re being told this is a solid, solid, ironclad deal, nothing can break it and then you have the attorney general coming out and saying we’re going to try squeeze some more money out of them now.
“Well, if you can squeeze more money out of them now, how about squeezing the deal closed and calling it a day?”
Mrs Duncombe said the government has failed Bahamians miserably.
On Monday Mr Bethel said: “I wish to assure the Bahamian people on behalf of the government of the Bahamas that, should commercial quantities of oil be found, and should permission to extract the same be given, the government will certainly renegotiate the scale of royalty fees which will be paid, both to the Consolidated Fund, but also to the Sovereign Wealth Fund, for the immediate benefit of every Bahamian.”
He sought to address what he described as “certain erroneous statements” made by Mr Davis recently in the House of Assembly that the Free National Movement government had issued the original lease and approvals for such exploration, and that a PLP government had subsequently “improved” the terms of the approvals.
BPC announced earlier this week that it had started drilling of its exploratory well, Perseverance #1. The company said the well was “spud” on December 20.
The well is anticipated to take 45 - 60 days to complete.