Saturday, February 2, 2013

Kenred Dorsett, the minister of the environment and housing - said that he could not confirm a date for the oil drilling referendum Prime Minister Perry Christie has yet to make a formal decision on the matter

Dorsett: No timetable for oil referendum

Minister committed, however, to building political consensus prior to vote

Guardian Business Editor

The government has no specific timeline for an oil drilling referendum, according to the Ministry of the Environment.

With the country still buzzing from this week's gambling referendum, many Bahamians are wondering when oil exploration will once again be placed on the radar.

Kenred Dorsett, the minister of the environment and housing, said he could not confirm a date for the referendum, as Prime Minister Perry Christie has yet to make a formal decision on the matter.  However, he did note that the government is seeking to develop a more formal consensus on oil exploration before a vote goes to the people.

"I'm not sure if it will be a summer referendum.  I don't know when it will take place," he told Guardian Business yesterday.  "But I do hope there will be a consensus on the issue.  There are members on the other side that who tell me we should be drilling now.  I think, as a minister responsible, I am mandated to ensue there is a current balance, particularly as we look at those efforts."

He added that the government is "getting to the point" where some of the proposed regulations on how to remodel the industry may come to fruition.  After that, he told Guardian Business there would be a "broad discussion" on the issue of drilling in The Bahamas.

The minister's comments come shortly after business leaders expressed hope that the government would approach the oil drilling referendum "differently" than gambling.

While the "Vote No" campaign was victorious last Monday, observers noted that low turnout and general apathy impacted the democratic process.  The government was frequently criticized for being unclear in the referendum questions and failing to introduce specific legislation to back up the possible legalization of gaming.  The vote also became highly politicized, promoting rival parties to endorse opposing views.

"Oil drilling is not a moral or religious issue, it will be a matter of whether you can explain the economic advantages and technical reasons why the environment can be protected," said Richard Coulson, a well-known financial consultant.  "If those points can be explained, there should be no problem."

Peter Turnquest, the minister for East Grand Bahama, urged the government to bring forth legislation in the event of a yes or no vote for oil drilling to build a consensus in the House of Assembly.

After that, the government can embark a "period of education" for the general public.

In regards to public confusion and politicizing of oil drilling, Dorsett told Guardian Business: "I don't want that to happen."

But he stopped short in saying the government would bring forth specific legislation in the House of Assembly.

Guardian Business understands that the issue must be revisited by the prime minister before any decisions can be made on the future of oil drilling in The Bahamas.

February 01, 2013