Conflicting reports on BPL in House

In an October editorial in which we demanded accountability on matters relating to Bahamas Power and Light’s (BPL) dramatic incremental increases in the fuel cost on customers’ bills, we challenged BPL and the Davis administration to show where requests by BPL’s fuel hedging committee and its board for hedge trades to be executed last fall were accepted and carried out.

In Parliament last month, Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Philip Davis and Minister of Works Alfred Sears repeatedly insisted that they received no advice, recommendation or proposal, had no briefings and saw no documents relating to the need to execute those trades.

“I received no advice or recommendations, saw no papers in that respect. I never saw any,” said Davis in Parliament on October 26 as he fired back at Opposition Leader Michael Pintard, who over the course of weeks accused the Davis administration of failing to execute the trades, which led to higher fuel costs.

Also on October 26, Sears told the House he was “not provided” any recommendations on fuel hedge transactions and had received no briefing on the matter.

After Pintard presented to Parliament an October 18, 2021 letter written to Sears by the then-BPL CEO Whitney Heastie, providing comprehensive details of the hedge program, Sears said that document, which he did not ever recall receiving, was only a description of the program.

“What the honorable member to my recollection stated is that a hedge strategy, a strategy was presented and we failed to act … a description of what was done is not a strategy,” he insisted.

But on Wednesday, after Pintard continued to press the government on failing to execute trades after it came to office last year, Sears admitted in the House that recommendations had been received, and the Ministry of Finance determined not to execute because it did not deem that action to be in the best interest of BPL and the Bahamian people.

“The Ministry of Finance in October (2021) made a determination that the proposal that the honorable member (Pintard) is referring to was not supported,” Sears said.

“Only the Ministry of Finance can support using the Public Treasury’s money in an undertaking, which it was not persuaded [to do] at that time, given what was before the Ministry of Finance, that it was not in the interest of the country at that time.

“The honorable member (Pintard) has a draft Cabinet paper (on hedge transactions), which only could have been, well, it’s addressed to the minister of finance, so they understood where the determination was to be made.

“The draft Cabinet paper is addressed to the minister of finance for the minister of finance’s consideration. The Ministry of Finance communicated that based on what was presented, it was not supported. That determination was communicated in October of 2021 …”

Those who observed this play out in the House on Wednesday concluded that Sears had in fact thrown the prime minister way under the bus on this issue.

The government has been playing word games, using semantics and obfuscating on this critical issue.

After The Nassau Guardian correctly reported that the Davis administration had abandoned the fuel hedge strategy it had met in place — that is the strategy to execute the trades last fall — it shot back with denials about the actual hedge program being abandoned, which was not the claim we made, or the point of anything we highlighted on the issue.

An October 5 press statement issued by the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) noted, “Contrary to reports, the hedge funding initiative continues to be used to generate savings where possible.

“It was not stopped, and reports suggesting otherwise should be retracted for factual inaccuracy.”

Even more egregious was a press release BPL issued that same day, clearly orchestrated with OPM, that said it had been “made aware of inaccurate statements made in today’s local media”.

Pintard has accused Davis and Sears of misleading the House – an egregious transgression in our parliamentary system.

The conflicting statements on this matter provided to Parliament are deeply concerning.

They are a continuation of a long and sordid BPL saga, which has further undermined confidence in our leaders, and has resulted in BPL customers now facing crippling energy bills.

In the interest of transparency, the prime minister must now address this conflict and provide a full explanation for the rejection of the hedge requests, requests he as minister of finance supposedly knew nothing about, though it was the finance ministry that rejected them.

The claim would be funny if it weren’t so pathetic.

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