Bethel insists govt broke no laws in Oban deal

By RASHAD ROLLE

Tribune Staff Reporter

rrolle@tribunemedia.net

THE Minnis administration has broken no laws with the Oban Energies project, Attorney General Carl Bethel stressed yesterday after another cabinet minister suggested otherwise.

During a recent appearance on Our TV's "On the Record" programme, Education Minister Jeffrey Lloyd said the Minnis administration "certainly did not follow the law" in how it processed Oban Energies' application to build a $5.5bn oil refinery and storage centre in East Grand Bahama.

He was responding to the programme's host Jerome Sawyer.

"The Planning and Subdivision Act…it's very clear," Mr Lloyd said, The Nassau Guardian reported. "We didn't follow the law, and obviously we had to retreat."

Countering this, Mr Bethel said yesterday the provisions of the Planning and Subdivision Act are not yet applicable because Oban Energies has not submitted an application to the Department of Physical Planning.

"The Heads of Agreement is a framework, not a blueprint which is unchangeable," Mr Bethel said.

"The fact is that environmental and planning laws must be complied with as set forth in the law. No application for land use has been submitted by the developer and no land use approval has been given. Before any application can be made for land use an EIA must first be completed and submitted to the Town Planning Committee for public consultation and consideration by the Town Planning Committee. None of this has happened so no law has been broken. Mr Bethel continued: "To the extent that the procedural steps might not be fully spelled out point by point in the Heads of Agreement, that does not derogate from the developer its agreement under that HOA to make all required applications to responsible governmental agencies."

The Planning and Subdivision Act mandates that an environmental impact statement be submitted to the Department of Physical Planning for developments expected to have a significant impact on the environment.

The Act says the Town Planning Committee must consider the findings of an environmental impact statement when deliberating on an application "for preliminary support of application or approval".

Environmentalists have criticised a clause in the Oban Energies Heads of Agreement that says the deal cannot be terminated no matter the conclusions of an environmental impact assessment (EIA).

Mr Lloyd is a part of the cabinet subcommittee reviewing the deal.

His recent comments thrust the matter back into headlines, rankling members of the Minnis administration who, The Tribune understands, felt he was not authorised to speak on the deal.

Labour Minister Dion Foulkes heads the cabinet subcommittee examining the matter.

Mr Lloyd's surprise admission renewed speculation that the government wants out of the deal.

"It all points to them trying to back out of it," Opposition Leader Philip "Brave" Davis said yesterday.

"Having pointed out all the challenges they have had on this, it seems to me they want to pull out and are just trying to find a way out of it. The question is whether or not the developer would have a right of action against them going forward because they can't just pull out of an agreement they signed.

Mr Davis said: "On the face of it it appears to be an enforceable arrangement. I think they had an opportunity very early on to pull out but having dug themselves in, I don't know if they can anymore."