The question of oil drilling
Whether or not to drill for oil in The Bahamas is a complex and multifaceted issue requiring extensive study and an open and transparent public debate. As the role of the government will be critical in this process, the major parties have an obligation to clearly outline their full views on the matter in the lead-up to Election Day.
Two weeks ago, Opposition Leader Perry Christie confirmed to The Nassau Guardian that he served as a legal consultant to Bahamas Petroleum Company (BPC).
He stated, “I consult on work the firm deems I am qualified by the office I’ve had, with the knowledge that I have in terms of government.”
He further stated: “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 should go on the board of directors, whatever views they ask of the firm, in the event that firm regards it as necessary, they would consult me on it. Those are the services I provide.”
One must presume that Christie was paid for this consultancy work.
A week later, we reported that Christie backtracked on his original statement to this newspaper saying that his consultancy with BPC ended some time ago, but he did not provide a date as to when.
Voters must have no doubt as to whether any of the major parties and their leaders will have a conflict of interest on the matter of oil drilling.
We note that Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) Deputy Leader Philip Brave Davis, the principal of Davis & Co., serves as a legal consultant to BPC. He would likely serve as deputy prime minister in a Christie government.
For his part, Christie needs to answer why he backtracked on his original statement. He must also answer a series of other questions raised by the consultancy relationship with an oil company to which his former government gave exploration licenses, and which a possible future government of his will be asked to provide additional licenses for exploration and drilling to the very same company.
Various characterizations have been made of Christie’s consultancy and his mixed statements on his work on behalf of BPC through Davis & Co. Christie will need to address a number of these.
Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham has noted his party’s position: “I have said before, in the media and in the House of Assembly – a government led by me will not agree to any drilling for oil in The Bahamas until all necessary and appropriate regulations are in place and until we are fully and competently in a position to regulate such activity so as to protect our environment and that of the world’s ocean beyond from harmful and risky activity in our country and in our waters.
“I am not unmindful of what happened in the gulf off the coast of Louisiana just two years ago. And certainly we do not have the resources, human or financial, nor the billet, to respond as the United States government responded.
“We are not now in a position to so regulate and oversee drilling operations in our waters.”
The PLP’s statements on oil drilling appear to be more equivocal than the government’s. Comments from former Cabinet minister Leslie Miller have not added clarity to the opposition’s view on this matter.
The general election is less than a week away. Unexpectedly, the question of oil drilling may play a decisive role in its outcome. It is a question with many facets such as economic development, environmental protection, and accountability and transparency in government.
Even as the parties address other issues, they will have to speak more to the issue of oil drilling. This includes safeguarding a transparent governmental process on such a critical issue and crystal clear clarity on any conflict(s) of interest.
May 03, 2012