|PM dismisses FNM’s concerns on oil drilling|
Guardian Senior Reporter
Published: Sep 12, 2012
The government will produce regulations detailing oil drilling safeguards and new legislation ahead of a planned referendum on the issue, Prime Minister Perry Christie said yesterday.
Christie has said previously that a public vote on the controversial issue will likely take place at the same time as a constitutional referendum, which the government hopes to call before July 10, 2013.
He was responding to Opposition Leader Dr. Hubert Minnis, who on Monday cautioned the Christie administration against leaving the fate of a weighty issue like oil drilling to a vote before making public detailed environmental safeguards against a potential disaster.
“There is no doubt that it is necessary — for oil drilling in The Bahamas and the possibility of oil finding — a new regime in the governance of such an industry, and that is therefore either amendments to the existing act or alternatively new legislation which will also embrace how monies are shared with respect to the industry,” Christie told reporters before heading into a weekly Cabinet meeting.
When asked if those regulations would be made public before the referendum, Christie said, “yes”.
“I think if people of The Bahamas are going to be satisfied that their best interests are protected there would have to be that regime put in place prior to a referendum,” he added.
“You could go to a referendum with the promise that afterwards you would do it. I think a part of the process of preparing the Bahamian people would be to put in place what it would look like.”
Christie also sought to distance himself from controversy surrounding his professional involvement with Bahamas Petroleum Company Ltd. (BPC), which wants to drill for oil in The Bahamas.
Weeks before the May general election, Christie confirmed to The Nassau Guardian that he had worked, while in opposition, as a consultant for law firm Davis & Co. that represented BPC.
Former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham used the admission as ammunition on the campaign trail. At the time, Ingraham accused Christie of having a conflict of interest due to his involvement with the oil company.
Yesterday, Christie said as part of his consultancy work he advised BPC to leave Davis & Co. and find a law firm the then Ingraham administration would be more receptive to.
“What the opposition ought to be aware of is that [a part of the] advice I would have given is for BPC to go to a different law firm,” he said. “They moved from the Davis law firm to Higgs & Johnson and Graham Thompson, part of that would have been done as result of the very advice [given].”
The prime minister could not say when that advice was given or when BPC left the law firm of Davis & Co.
He said his integrity while in public office is unblemished. He added that he did not benefit directly from BPC and worked as a consultant for Davis & Co. on a limited basis while in opposition.
“The one thing I pride myself with in my entire 35-year career at the House of Assembly and before that in the Senate, which means about 37 years, I prided myself on being able to abide by the code of ethics that public figures should. Really, I jealously guard my integrity,” he said.
On Monday, BPC said it received a letter from the government confirming that the company has complied with the terms of its oil exploration licenses. The company saw the letter as confirmation of the government’s “recognition of a constructive partnership toward BPC’s responsible oil exploration”.
However, any oil drilling is subject to the outcome of a referendum, according to the prime minister.