Something stinks about the government’s new deal with Renew Bahamas concerning the New Providence landfill, the secrecy surrounding their arrangement and the fact no public tender or Request for Proposal (RFP) for the landfill was ever issued. What’s more, Renew Bahamas – a relatively new company whose expertise and previous experiences are unknown – does not yet appear to have a website, a head office or anything of the sort, besides its registered address. The funk that arises from this deal is worse than the scent from the actual site!
Considering the lack of transparency, one wonders how the government made its decisions and I am curious to know whether or not Renew Bahamas, or anyone associated with that company, was privy to inside information that could have placed that company in an advantageous position relative to rendering a proposal to government that reflected exactly what was desired – though all of this transpired in the absence of public tender. As a businessman, I can certainly understand the concerns and objections of the Bahamas Renewable Energy Resources (BRER) group, who submitted a 240-page proposal for the landfill to the government in April 2013, seeking to inform the government on how it would operate and manage the landfill and lobbying for the contract to do just that. BRER’s proposal called for a 100 per cent Bahamian-owned public company, with 30 per cent held by the waste companies and the remaining 70 per cent split between the government and public investors.
What’s even more interesting is the fact that Renew Bahamas is 60 per cent majority foreign-owned, which therefore makes it selection over 100 per cent Bahamian-owned groups even more questionable when one considers that the government party campaigned on a mantra of ‘putting Bahamians first’.
Now, here’s the kicker. Renew Bahamas was formed on July 16 and registered on September 13, 2012, by Davis & Company, which became its initial registered office. Documents show the attorney that registered Renew Bahamas as a domestic company was Philip McKenzie, a partner in Davis & Co. One notes that there is nothing to suggest that the Deputy Prime Minister had any involvement with Renew Bahamas’ registration, as he has given up day-to-day involvement in his law firm.
Documents further reveal that Renew Bahamas switched its registered office from Davis & Co to the McKinney, Turner & Company law firm on February 6, 2013. The Companies Registry files list two directors, Mr Beukes and Een Colebrooke, who appears to be a Bahamian. Mr Beukes is now an executive with London-based Aubaine Capital, a boutique investment/finance house that was spun-off from Adurion via management buyout in 2011.
Indeed, there is much that needs to be done about waste in the Bahamas. We know that the biggest producer of waste material is New Providence and so therefore that is a reasonable place to start.
That said, if we can’t give the garbage to Bahamians, what claims can we truly assert over our national patrimony? Are Bahamians being told that they are not good enough to even manage the garbage, even where there is documented evidence of Bahamians having some experience and paying large sums for a proposal?
When the government can announce that it is relying on a foreign entity to remediate waste management and don’t have the courtesy to tell Bahamian companies why their proposals were rejected, that smacks of a foregone conclusion, of a rigged process and of an out-and-out demonstration of no confidence in Bahamians. This speaks of a level of contempt and a dismissiveness of Bahamians and further lays a lie to the slogan “believing in Bahamians.”
Does the question of a conflict of interest arise given the purportedly close ties between the published principals of Renew Bahamas and key members of government?
Bahamians also want to know whether there are any characters with any questionable records involved with Renew Bahamas, persons with whom the Bahamas should not be prepared to do business. Are there any characters who are so unsavoury or whose past are so checkered that we should not look the other way? Will the government reconsider such deals with a view to optimising the reputational standing of this business jurisdiction?
On paper, we see the listed owners of Renew Bahamas. However, are there any members of government involved as silent partners?
We – the people – want to know!
Will they pass legislation to regularise web shops?
So, I was reflecting on the web shop issue and realised that by now Attorney General Allyson Maynard-Gibson would have returned to the country after travelling to meet with the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) to ensure that the government’s new web shop legislation meets international standards.
What’s the update on the outcome of that meeting?
Thus far, there has been no word from Prime Minister Perry Christie or the Cabinet that the regulations withstood international scrutiny on anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing guidelines and that the FATF concluded that there are sufficient mechanisms to prevent possible money laundering and black listing.
Frankly, I think if that was so, the administration would have leaked it or already come running to the media, gushing about the whole affair. It is highly likely that the newly proposed gaming legislation – which is otherwise discriminatory and discreditable in that its being advanced by so-called modern day politicians – did not stand up to international scrutiny and, therefore, could precipitate the web shops not being regularised (a position I support) and being shut down all together or continuing the underground operations as was the case before operators become so emboldened.
Indeed, this country cannot and should not be blacklisted for money laundering or illicit financial activity so that the governing party, or any political entity, could appease a handful of donors. A number of banking institutions, including the government’s banker – the Royal Bank of Canada – have indicated that they would not jeopardise their operations and international relationships to facilitate financial transactions with monies from web shop operators that would have likely been gained illicitly. Leading banks have concertedly panned the newly proposed web shop regime.
Rather than jeopardising the country’s banking industry – against the backdrop of global anti-money laundering undertakings – would the Christie government have the gumption to exercise its discretion in favour of the national interest and reject the special interest of its purported campaign donors, that is, the number bosses?
I’ve played out a number of scenarios in my mind as to how the governing party would seek to please its web shop masters if financial bodies – internationally and locally – reject the legislation and web shop monies. If this happens, the government could still pass the flawed legislation and likely grant Craig Flowers – the most respectable and gentlemanly of the major web shop owners – a bank licence.
Frankly, I think that if Mr Flowers wasn’t involved in the entire process, the question of licences for web shops may not have even been considered. If Flowers gets a bank licence, he could potentially become the banker for the web shop operators, though his bank’s activities would likely be confined to the Bahamas and to merely keeping an account of deposits, withdrawals and perhaps giving small loans. That said, even with limiting the scope of such a banks activities – meaning drafts, wire transfers etc – such an entity would be seen as a facilitator for money launderers and therefore we would see the Bahamas’ banking system being derided and blacklisted.
On the other hand, if the legislation is not passed and Mr Flowers agrees to close up shop on the local front, who says that the other number house bosses would follow suit? What prevents these individuals, some of whom have checkered pasts, from going underground and conducting themselves as in times past? Of course, one notes that the newer lot of “number boys” are more flamboyant and flaunting than Mr Flowers and a few other settled, seasoned bosses and so therefore it might be difficult for them not to show off and be known and seen as “having money.”
If push comes to shove and legislation does not remedy the fact that number bosses would have made a heck of a lot of money illicitly over the years, the government must then move to shut down the current operations and, in its legislation, provide a platform for new entrants into the gaming sphere, persons who would withstand scrutiny and not be seen as having participated as owners in the current operations. Something has to give …
Notably, the government has also indicated that only eight web shops will be licenced under the new regulatory regime, implying that smaller, less established operators will have to either merge with bigger rivals or go out of business. Legalised operators will also likely have to post significant performance bonds.
It’s going to be interesting to see how this all plays out. I am daily concluding that the governing party does not believe in Bahamians and the discriminatory, limited scope taken in drafting the new gaming legislation speaks wonders about their outlook on Bahamians gambling in casinos, owning casinos and participating in all gaming operations without limitations. Capitalism is also stymied when governments seek to curb the entrepreneurial spirit by restrictive legislation and the archaic thinking of political pretenders masquerading as change agents.
This week, I chatted on FaceBook with the persons behind what is perhaps the most popular local online blog/political page, BahamaNews Ma Bey. Over the last year or so, they have managed to bring breaking news to the public in a manner that is informative, instantaneous and many times before these reports hit the mainstream media circuits in what is an interpersonal way that appeals to persons who may not usually read a newspaper, listen to the radio or watch televised news.
Social media has certainly changed the way news is broadcast and disseminated in the Bahamas and I say kudos to the folks at ‘BahamaNews Ma Bey’ for contributing to that.