Imagine this two-part scenario, the very implausibility of which makes it even that more instructive.
During a British general election, it is revealed that the leader of the opposition and the deputy leader of the opposition party served in some combination as legal advisor and/or consultant for a company exploring for oil.
Not only is the matter of exploration highly controversial. The politicians mentioned, were they to assume office as prime minister and deputy prime minister, would be key figures in deciding a range of issues for their recent clients.
Pressed to detail the nature of their duties and relationship with the company, including remuneration, the potential numbers one and two in a new administration issue vague comments. Despite a lack of transparency, the leaders claim that there is no conflict of interest.
In the UK, such a blatant and dismissive lack of transparency would not easily wash. The firestorm ignited by such a scenario would be fuelled not only by this party’s political opponents. It would also rage through a combustible mix of media frenzy, an onslaught of criticism by independent groups and public outrage.
The disclosure of a glaring potential conflict of interest of such a grand proportions would likely help defeat the official opposition. Yet, improbably, let’s say the opposition wins, having promised to hold a referendum on oil exploration.
In office, in an about-face, the new government agrees to allow for exploration ahead of the referendum. And yet, the new prime minister and his deputy prime minister still refuse to be more transparent about their work and remuneration for the company gleefully benefitting from the government’s abrupt about-face.
Such a highly unlikely scenario in the UK and various democracies is where we find ourselves under the current Christie administration. The PLP is sullying the notions of transparency and accountability as would a major oil spill pollute for generations the environmental wonders and marine richness of a given area.
In terms of their relationship with BPC, a company exploring for oil in The Bahamas, Perry Christie and Philip Brave Davis, former consultants and advisors to the company, have been as transparent as a crude oil slick.
It is telling that Christie’s PLP is proceeding on the matter of oil exploration in much the same manner as they did in the gamble to legalize the numbers business.
If the still ongoing game-playing on the multimillion-dollar numbers business is something to behold, the stakes in the multibillion-dollar scramble for oil will be even more high octane.
Offshore Magazine noted: “The Bahamian government has opted to defer any referendum on future oilfield development in The Bahamas until after exploration drilling has been completed.” Another term for deferral is flip-flop.
Interactive Investor reported the views of analysts at Fox Davies on the deferral cum flip-flop: “That the Bahamian government will allow operators to drill in its waters is good news and permits a certain element of forward planning, but any driller would be mad to contemplate executing a $50-$100 million campaign without knowing that they could valorize their investment.”
The questions are: Good news for whom? And, why would a company take such a risk, unless there’s something we’re not being told.
With mounting criticism of the government’s most recent flip-flopping and lack of transparency, the coalition of Christie and Davis has given a two-step theatrical and voluble performance hyping their integrity and dismissing any conflict of interest relative of oil exploration by their recent clients.
Christie complained about the FNM’s alleged indulgence in “dirty politics”, passionately proclaiming his “integrity”, while seeking to convince the country that he has no conflict of interest in the matter of oil drilling in The Bahamas.
By the way, recall his ludicrous and laughable claim that he had “no horse” in the recent matter of the referendum on gambling. In the case of the gambling referendum, it was widely perceived that the PLP received money from numbers’ barons for the PLP’s campaigns in the Abaco by-election and the general election.
Yet, the PLP has failed to make a full disclosure to the public about the extent of any purported contributions. Voters were justified in suspecting that something might be amiss in the PLP’s relationship with various numbers barons. Voters were not prepared to rely on any claims of “integrity” in this matter.
Bahamian voters know that the mere assertion of integrity is not enough in the political arena. They know and they expect that every politician’s integrity is open to scrutiny and that every politician is to be held accountable for his or her integrity, especially by those in high office.
It was Christie who promised a forensic audit of funds, potentially millions, given by Mohammed Harajchi to the PLP prior to the 2002 general election. The long-awaited audit has gone the way of most of Christie’s solemn and fervent promises.
Christie failed to live up to his promised forensic audit. He has now broken his promise on the oil referendum. If Christie is being questioned, it is mostly because of what he has done or has failed to do.
Christie’s and Davis’ imperious assertions of integrity and protestations of hurt feelings when their integrity is challenged in the public arena are part and parcel of the delusions of exceptionalism and entitlement by the PLP.
Seemingly, the rest of us live in a democracy, while the PLP mandarins cum oligarchs do not deign to be questioned. Apparently, the prime minister has changed his name to Imperious Rex Christie?
In the case of the promised referendum on oil drilling, Christie, Davis and company have apparently decided that it is too risky to subject this to a referendum as it might be defeated in the same manner as the gambling referendum.
So they have seemingly decided to abandon any pretense at seeking cover for what they may have always wanted to do, brazenly breaking their promise to the Bahamian people, allowing the former clients of Christie and Davis to drill. “Bahamians First” has been replaced by “Drill, Baby, Drill!”
As with the gambling referendum, scores of Bahamians believe that Christie, Davis and the PLP have a horse in the race to find oil, and that they are not taking any chances of that horse losing out.
Across the globe, the business of oil has so often corrupted governments and public officials, especially where regulatory frameworks are weak or nonexistent. Moreover, the accountability and transparency provided by campaign finance laws are essential in tracking funds donated by oil companies to political parties.
Christie says that the PLP received no funds from BPC. We should not have to accept his word on this. We desperately need some type of serious campaign finance laws to hold all parties more accountable. And, the observance of current public disclosure laws should be enforced.
Christie and Davis should report the type and extent of remuneration provided to them by BPC. So should Senator Jerome Gomez, who was an employee of BPC. All three have an obligation to disclose more on their work for the company, most particularly the head of government.
By refusing to be more transparent and open, questions will continue to dog the Christie-led PLP, no matter how much the prime minister and certain colleagues doth protest.
While the reliably flip-flopping prime minister has done so again, this time on the matter of a referendum on oil, a referendum is underway on his legacy and that of his government on various questions related to oil.
Christie and the PLP seem disinclined towards more accountable and transparent government, such as indicated in the opening scenario.
Still, the verdict rendered by voters at the gambling referendum on such contempt for democracy and the Bahamian people should give pause to the PLP’s merchants of greed as well as those who may be aligned with them, as the numbers barons found out at their great cost.
Author of the Front Porch column in the Nassau Guardian
and contributor to the www.bahamapundit.com website