IT is fair to say there is some mixed messaging from the government over oil drilling.
Activists opposing oil exploration in Bahamian waters were celebrating earlier this month when Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis said he was “totally against oil drilling in our waters”.
He went on to say: “Unfortunately, we were saddled with an agreement that we met there. When we discussed it with the legal department, we were advised that the commitment and everything was signed and basically we could not get out of it.
“But if we could’ve gotten out of it believe me, I am against totally drilling for oil in our waters.”
Campaigners were delighted – with Fred Smith, QC, who represents Waterkeepers Bahamas and the Coalition to Protect Clifton Bay (Save The Bays) in their legal challenge against drilling, calling it “music to our ears”.
That music became something of a symphony with other Cabinet members speaking up to agree with Dr Minnis – and Attorney General Carl Bethel making noises about renegotiating the royalties if oil is indeed found.
So it is with some confusion that activists find the government weighing in on the legal challenge against oil drilling… but against the activists.
The government has revealed its intention to seek judicial permission to oppose the activists’ Judicial Review challenge.
In short, the government says the bid for a Judicial Review is too late, without merit and called on the Supreme Court not to grant a “stay” that would halt drilling.
As one of those activists, Sam Duncombe, of reEarth, said: “They are now opposing our Judicial Review application, even though the Prime Minister and several of his ministers have all come out against oil drilling… it’s just bizarre to me.”
She added: “I think they need to get together and talk with one voice… you have to wonder what they are thinking about when they’re putting the country at risk, and there’s so much confusion in government. It doesn’t leave me with the feeling they have a clue what they’re doing. Everything is suspect now. One minute it’s something, the next it’s the opposite. Unbelievable. It’s truly bizarre.”
Unbelievable, indeed. Will Dr Minnis speak out now against his own government’s actions – or will actions speak louder than his words when it comes to how total his opposition is to oil drilling?
Legally, of course, decisions still have to be made – and the Supreme Court is to decide today whether the activists’ case should proceed.
But whether it does, or whether it doesn’t, those MPs who raised their voices against oil drilling would do well to raise those same voices again to explain whether they support the government’s action against the activists’ case, or not. And that includes Dr Minnis.
This is an issue close to the heart of many Bahamians, given the environment with which we are blessed, and which we do not wish to risk losing. The very least Bahamians deserve is straight talk – that isn’t contradicted by action. This is no time to say one thing and do another.
A Christmas pledge
Christmas is upon us. It has seemed such a long year to get us to this point, a year which has seen the country beset by struggles we never thought we would face.
We remember those who will not be with us this Christmas, including the 169 people who died from COVID-19. We think of those struggling to get by after job losses and furloughs, our Bahamian brothers and sisters who need our help now, and who will need our help still in the future.
We shall perhaps value our Christmas celebration more than ever this year – knowing how so much we had taken for granted has changed.
Let us, too, look to the future. COVID-19 will not be going away quickly, but the vaccines are on their way.
As 2020 comes towards its end, we can look toward 2021 with determination. Our silent pledge must be to make sure next Christmas is better for all of us, and that truly is something to raise a glass to on Christmas Day.