Christie defends RBDF ships deal

Former Prime Minister Perry Christie yesterday defended the deal his administration entered into with Dutch company Damen Shipyards Group for the construction of ships and certain civil works for the Royal Bahamas Defence Force (RBDF), assuring that the contract was handled with the utmost propriety.

Christie released the statement after media reports claimed authorities in the Netherlands are investigating contracts between Damen and Caribbean governments.

The Nassau Guardian confirmed that officials from the Office of the Attorney General traveled to the Netherlands earlier this year for a meeting with officials there, but the scope of that meeting was not revealed.

“Let me state at the very outset that I am not aware of any impropriety or irregularity of any kind in this matter,” said Christie in a statement released to the media.

“Further that the result of the contract has been a transformative and defining improvement in the operational efficiency and effectiveness of the Royal Bahamas Defence Force in its policing of our waters and the protection of our marine resources.”

Christie said when his government was elected in 2012, it met in place a recommendation from the Ingraham administration that Damen Shipyards Group (DSG) be awarded the contract in question.

“The recommendation made to my government supported the recommendation previously made to the FNM and was made by the same public officials,” Christie said.

However, the scope of works was expanded, he added.

Christie said it was that considerable expansion in the scope of the contract that accounted for the increase in cost.

The Christie administration invested $232 million for the acquisition of new vessels.

Christie said the expanded scope included the construction of a specially designed landing craft for use in natural disasters, especially hurricanes.

“Bahamians should be reminded that this landing craft enables the defence force to establish, in the aftermath of a disaster, a fully functioning and equipped base camp with water production, food preparation, medical facilities, and significant generator capacity. This base camp was used in Crooked Island after Hurricane Matthew and is currently being used in Abaco after Hurricane Dorian.”

The expanded scope also included the major repair and restoration of two out of use defense force vessels, HMBS Nassau and HMBS Bahamas, both in a state of deterioration at Prince George Dock, the former prime minister noted.

Efforts were made to repair them in Freeport, but eventually we were obliged to have them repaired by Damen in the Netherlands.

And it included provision of a simulator for use in training officers in command positions of defence force vessels and major transformative dredging works for the better berthing and accommodation at three locations used by the RBDF: The RBDF Coral Harbour Base, New Providence; Matthew Town, Inagua, and Gun Point, Ragged Island towards ensuring that the ships of the defence force could be accommodated as well as having some protection for Bahamian fishing boats.

“My government’s payment was to Damen Shipyards Group (DSG) and not to anyone else,” Christie said.

“The process was a transparent one involving a tender process and negotiations. Moreover, the attorney general’s office and our legal advisors in Washington, Hogan and Lovell, played major roles in the finalization of the contract for which I again thank them.

“I also take this opportunity to state for the record my appreciation and thanks to the late Dr. Bernard J. Nottage, the minister of national security, for the magnificent work he and his team performed in the superintendence of the performance of the contract inclusive of his traveling to the Republic of Vietnam to accept delivery of the specially designed landing craft at a time when as I now know he was terminally ill.

“I also thank him for his leadership in the fostering of national pride when the government named the ships after prominent Bahamians who made defining contributions to the Commonwealth of The Bahamas — the Hon. A.D. Hanna, Sir Durward Knowles, Captain Rolly Gray, Commodore Leon Smith, and former Assistant Commissioner and Superintendent of Her Majesty’s Prison Lawrence Whitfield Major, all rightfully deserving.”

Christie said the present government, which is in possession of the files, should provide full information to the Bahamian public and should do so without delay.

“They should also co-operate fully with any investigation by the Dutch authorities. There is nothing to hide.

“Secondly, I would suggest that the public officials involved in this matter be called upon to publicly confirm whether they are aware of any influence-peddling or politically-connected lobbying or other improper or irregular conduct involved in the contract awarded to Damen Shipyards Group (DSG).

“In the meantime, I confirm, without any reservation whatsoever, that I am not aware of any such irregularity or impropriety on the part of either my government or the government that preceded mine, or on the part of anyone connected with either government.”

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