A review into the Christie administration’s response to a Rubis oil spill that impacted residents in the Marathon constituency revealed that perceived liability and a lack of productive momentum were the main reasons for the delayed release of a consultant’s report that warned of possible health risks from the incident.
Minister of the Environment and Housing Romauld Ferreira yesterday tabled the review — penned by retired Senior Justice Joseph Strachan — nearly four years after the former administration appointed Strachan to conduct it.
The decision to review the matter came amid public furor over the revelation that the government had waited to release the report from consultant Black & Veatch International (BVI).
The review outlines the timeline and communications among key stakeholders, including the Cabinet of The Bahamas, the Ministry of the Environment (MOE), the Office of the Attorney General, Cable Bahamas and Rubis, from the receipt of the report to its release.
The BVI report concluded that residents who live near the Rubis gas station on Robinson Road and people who work in adjacent buildings were exposed to chemicals that could create health risks.
The spill occurred between late 2012 and early 2013, according to BVI. The government received the report in February 2014.
It was released to the public in April 2015, a day after residents at a town meeting expressed outrage that the report had not yet been made public.
According to Strachan’s review, some time after BVI reported in February 2014, Cabinet directed the OAG to “cause research to be undertaken in order to determine how such matters are dealt with in other jurisdictions and to advise on whether the report in hand should be shared in whole or in part with Rubis, Cable, other residents and businesses in the affected areas, and also, to inform of the responsibility of Rubis for payment of all costs incurred by the government in dealing with the matter”.
A request process then followed between the key parties.
Strachan said, “Having due regard to the spill and the aftermath, including the engagement of BVI, it was crucially important for MOE to timeously and effectively satisfy any obligation to those affected, (particularly residents and businesses) who would naturally desire to know sooner rather than later what the BVI [report] contained; whether or not the Rubis report had been thoroughly critiqued; what they could reasonably expect, and how soon, from whoever bore responsibility for the spill and the aftermath.”
Strachan also noted that individuals had the right to know “if their expectations, which might well range from being provided with a copy of the BVI [report], to help with understanding it, to ongoing information on the management of the aftermath and to help with coping with consequential adverse effects, were well founded”.
He said consideration must be given to the fact that there was no shared predetermined action plan to deal with an inland gasoline spill and the contents of Cabinet’s direction.
He added that the availability of the requisite competencies and the time to prepare for meetings and participate in them, evidently contributed to the delay.
“Even so, the fact that it took from the 14th July 2014 to have the BVI [report] released…is, as a matter of first impression, exceptional and attracts an explanation,” he said.
Strachan concluded that, “What was decisive in bringing about the decision to disclose is unclear.
“But as gleaned from the record, it appears that exposure of the government to actual and/or perceived liability issues were controlling contributors to prior disclosure being…generally limited to BVI’s recommendations only.”
In May 2015, Allyson Maynard-Gibson issued a press release announcing the government had appointed Strachan to conduct the independent review into the cause of the delayed release of the report.
She said the review was a fulfillment of the government’s promise to take necessary measures to ensure that there were no future delays in the lawful release of important reports to Bahamians.
“The review is intended to ensure that the processes to support future investigations and enquiries conducted in the public interest are managed according to international best practices, as well as to ensure timely disclosure when these reports are going to be made public,” the then attorney general said.
Education: Vrije Universiteit Brussel (University of Brussels), MA in Mass Communications