Perry Christie’s oil slick
Referring to their twin island-nation’s oil wealth, some Trinidadians and Tobagonians liked to brag, “oil don’t spoil”. It may not spoil in the ground. But the potential to spoil rotten, some politicians, public officials and others is legend.
Speaking ahead of the gambling referendum in January, Bahamas Faith Ministries International President Dr. Myles Munroe sounded this dire warning: “Any government pressured by a small lobby group such as the gaming bosses will inevitably produce corruption. And if this referendum goes through we will never have a pure government again.”
Bahamaislandsinfo.com further reported: “He [Dr. Munroe] also stated that the motivation of the referendum of the governing authority seems to be the surrender to the powers with money. In other words he said that the government cannot rightly govern because they will owe allegiance to the few and not to the citizenry or the people of The Bahamas.”
The pastor’s warning is noteworthy. The nature and role of leadership have been central themes of Dr. Munroe’s ministry. The quality of leadership at various levels of society will be pivotal in the debate on oil exploration.
For its part, the Bahamas Christian Council has gotten off to a poor start. The council’s economic committee chairman Rev. Patrick Paul specified the type of arrangement he thought best to distribute the proceeds of oil wealth, calling a supposed arrangement “categorically unjust, injurious and unfair to the democracy of our nation”.
God bless Paul. But, he seems like a potential groom planning for a joint bank account and mortgage with a woman whom he hasn’t even asked to marry him. The reverend has gotten things in the wrong order.
A prior question is whether there should be drilling in the first place, which is what then Opposition Leader Perry Christie solemnly promised the Bahamian people his government would ask in a referendum. He has spectacularly reneged on his promise.
Christie’s latest calculated flip-flop clarifies the quality of political leadership the country needs in considering oil exploration. Good governance and good leadership on this issue will require leaders of great prudence and profound judgement.
Christie has exhibited a stunning lack of prudence and extremely poor judgement on the matter of oil exploration. With the disclosure of his work for Bahamas Petroleum Company (BPC), Christie, seemingly caught off guard, listed some of his duties as a consultant for the company.
“If there is an issue they need advice on, whether or not they need someone to speak to the issue of environmental impact [studies], the issue of whether or not in my judgment a matter is worthy for the government to approve, whether or not an application is ready, whether or not they should employ and who go on the board of directors, whatever views they ask of the firm regards it as necessary, they would consult me on it. Those are the services I provide,” he said.
This is more than the work of an attorney. His duties appear political and operational. He would be considered a lobbyist in some jurisdictions. Further, what did he mean by, “whether or not in my judgment a matter is worthy for the government to approve”?
If there are clear guidelines, it is not up to anyone’s judgment, including Christie’s, as to whether a matter “is worthy for the government to approve”. Such murkiness is worrisome in what should be a highly regulated field. Is Christie also following this approach as prime minister?
During last year’s general election campaign, former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham noted: “When Mr. Christie agreed to become a consultant for the company [BPC] it would have been with the full knowledge and intention of using his position, past and present, and his access to government agencies, whether as government or as former government, to influence a decision by the Bahamian government with respect to any application by that company.”
In quite a number of democracies there are stringent guidelines to limit the revolving door and conflicts of interest of politicians and public officials moving in and out of government, potentially using their public positions to benefit private clients. One key measure includes a waiting period before one can work as a consultant or lobbyist for various clients.
Christie’s revolving door seems like a turbocharged merry-go-round: Between 2002 and 2007, his government issued certain licences to BPC. Out of office he became a consultant to BPC. Now back in office, his government has issued an exploration license to BPC, while delaying his promise to hold a referendum on oil drilling.
Christie’s lack of transparency on certain issues is as murky and as dense as an oil slick. When did he become a consultant to BPC? How much was he paid? How often did they consult with him?
In addition to the prime minister, neither Deputy Prime Minister Philip Davis, whose law firm represented BPC, nor Senator Jerome Gomez have been transparent or forthcoming with their compensation terms and arrangements with BPC.
By his own admission, Christie was a general consultant to a corporation wanting to drill for oil in The Bahamas while he was in Parliament, while he held the position of leader of the opposition, and while he fully expected to again become prime minister.
Further, did Christie express that he expected to be paid handsomely for his advice? And, how handsomely was he paid. The Bahamian people have a need to know?
Essentially, Christie advised his clients on how to go about achieving their ultimate objective – which is to drill for oil in The Bahamas. And it was not just legal advice, it was advice on environmental issues, preparation for government approval, who to employ, who to put on the board of directors, and a catchall “whatever views they ask of the firm”.
In light of all of this, we are expected to believe that the prime minister has an open mind on whether or not there should be oil drilling in The Bahamas?
Christie’s clients were not some ordinary citizens requiring legal counsel who may have had sometime in the future a matter before the government of The Bahamas. These were a corporation whose sole purpose for being in the country is to drill for oil. Even if he did not become prime minister, as leader of the opposition, Christie knew that at some point he would have to address this issue in Parliament.
Christie himself must have recognized the position he was in when he and his government decided not to proceed with the promised referendum but to give the company the right to drill anyway.
Why on such a momentous national issue and stunning flip-flop did he not make the statement himself but left it to his minister for the environment? Christie continues to abuse our trust. And, he is more interested in putting the needs of foreigners first, instead of the Bahamian people.
By his own actions and admission, the prime minister has demonstrated that he and his government cannot be trusted on the momentous question of oil drilling. His revolving door and flip-flopping constitute an oil slick that grows bigger and continues to spread.
April 04, 2013