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Information Act critical to assess FDI risks posed

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Matt Aubry, executive director of the Organization for Responsible Governance. Photo: Shawn Hanna/Tribune Staff

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

A governance reformer yesterday said freedom of information is critical to assessing foreign direct investment (FDI) risks as oil exploration opponents demanded further disclosures by the government.

Matt Aubry, the Organisation for Responsible Governance’s (ORG) executive director, told Tribune Business that fully enacting the Freedom of Information Act is critical to The Bahamas’ future sustainability as it will enable the public to play a greater part in decision-making and setting government policy.

He spoke out after activists from the Our Islands, Our Future coalition issued a second letter in three months to Carl Bethel QC, the attorney general, requesting that the government - via the Freedom of Information Act - release more details on Bahamas Petroleum Company’s (BPC) licences and activities surrounding its recently-ended Perseverance One exploration well.

Casuarina McKinney-Lambert, the Bahamas Reef Environment Educational Foundation (BREEF) executive director, and Rashema Ingraham, executive director of Waterkeepers Bahamas, called on Mr Bethel and the Government to release information on “BPC’s plans, licenses, government approvals, activities and reports surrounding the Perseverance One well”.

Also requesting that BPC’s “certificate of insurance” for its first exploratory well be produced, along with the “minimum” coverage requirements requested by the government, the duo wrote: “We respectfully make an additional request for copies of all drilling reports, communications, compliance and safety observations, drilling results data and analysis, and any information in the possession of your agency regarding potential or actual environmental impacts of the activities associated with the BPC’s Perseverance One well, whether they came to you from BPC, Black & Veatch or another source.

“What data do you have supporting BPC’s stated discovery of ‘non-commercial quantities’ of oil? What are its properties and quantities? Was there methane or petroleum gas discovered as part of this effort? Are your recent public statements about the potential of methane extraction in Bahamian waters related to information provided by BPC?”

Justifying their request, the activists added: “As you know the public is keenly interested in the issues surrounding exploration of hydrocarbons in our waters, and these issues are of critical national importance, given the resources at risk and the fact that more than 50 percent of our gross domestic product (GDP) is dependent on fisheries and tourism.

“Only through transparent sharing of this information may we as Bahamians make an informed decision that is truly in the national interest. Our campaign has emphasised the critical role the marine environment has on our GDP where various businesses rely on the pristine state of our waters. These businesses provide jobs to more than 120,000 Bahamians with annual revenue around $8bn.” 

Mrs McKinney and Ms Ingraham said disclosure of the requested information was critical to “make a complete evaluation” of a project “that impacts not only the welfare of Bahamians, but our natural resources”.

However, no mention was made of whether the activists have succeeded in raising the necessary $200,000 ordered by the Supreme Court so that the merits of their Judicial Review challenge to BPC’s permits and approvals can be heard. The deadline for coming up with the funds was set at end-March, which is now one week away.

Still Mr Aubry, urging the Government to properly implement a law already passed, said: “A fully enacted Freedom of Information Act is crucial for our future sustainability. In addition to the accountability and transparency it brings to crafting policy and government decision-making and spending, a Freedom of Information Act leads to more inclusive and participatory governance.

“In The Bahamas, civil society plays a crucial role in protecting the environment and fighting for conservation of our resources and combating the effects of climate change. As the Government looks to accelerate foreign direct investment to stimulate economic activity, it is essential there are also mechanisms to independently determine and monitor the impact and risks associated with large-scale developments and efforts in the extractive industries.

“Our local groups need the access to data and environmental assessments to fully understand and evaluate how these projects will affect no only our natural resources but also the welfare of our communities.”

While BPC’s Perseverance One well failed to discover commercial oil quantities, the oil explorer has yet to signal it has abandoned The Bahamas completely given its statements about “monetising” its licence assets in this jurisdiction.

Reading between the lines of its latest statements, BPC will likely seek to renew its five licences that are due to expire at end-June 2021 but is unlikely to drill another well in this nation unless it can find a farm-in or joint venture partner to share the financial, technical and operational risk. In such a way will it monetise its licence, with the Perseverance One well data already attracting new interest.

Justice Hanna-Adderley had previously ruled that BPC’s opponents “are not immunised from an application for security for costs simply because their action raises points of law of public importance”.

She gave Save the Bays and Waterkeepers Bahamas, the two environmental groups that initiated the Judicial Review challenge to BPC’s permits and the process by which they were obtained, 30 days - effectively until the end of March - to come up with a bond to cover the oil explorer’s legal costs.

The activists’ position is that the Judicial Review’s merits be heard and ruled upon by the Supreme Court so that the Bahamian people have a full understanding of BPC’s licence terms and commercial deals reached with the Government.

They believe it is also critical that the Bahamian judicial system determine what approvals must be obtained, and processes followed, so that the permitting processes for future exploratory wells can be properly established. 

Comments

SP 3 years, 2 months ago

Lol.....FOI could NEVER be passed under an FNM or PLP administration because too many of them would end up in jail!

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