The BPL fiasco and freedom of the press

When questioned by our reporter, Jasper Ward, on the ongoing load shedding across New Providence last week, Minister of Public Works Desmond Bannister responded: “I just don’t really need to talk to The Guardian…no use talking to an organization that has political bias.”

In this space on July 1, 2019 we wrote: “The most respected newspapers hold no brief for a single ideology. They do not create news; they report it through the distribution of accurate stories that are fair, balanced and impartial. In providing the public with both sides of a subject or dispute newspapers seek to assist readers in constructing their own opinions independently.

“…We have not been and will not be cowered by the musings of the politically powerful. We remain committed to the principles of the freedom of the press.”

Our position is unchanged.

Bannister is offended by our reporting and commentary on the government’s performance in office; very particularly by our observations on the mismanagement of the government-owned power company which falls within his portfolio responsibility. That is too bad. And the minister knows better.

The minister, a politician, complains that political questions are put to him. The minister clearly forgets that he is accountable for matters in his portfolio such as Bahamas Power and Light (BPL). Newspapers are one of the means through which governments account to the public on what it is doing in their name and on their behalf.

It is not a question of the minister wanting to respond to questions from this newspaper; it is his duty to do so.

We recently set out the record of action taken under this government to address a legacy of power generation shortfalls at BPL. The inadequacy and insufficiency of action taken by BPL to date is indisputable.

Rather than accepting constructive criticism, Bannister, a senior member of the Cabinet, takes personal affront. His response is most unbecoming.

The minister has criticized a previous government for its secret plans for BPL. We recommend that he fulfill his duty and respond to still unanswered questions put to him on the BPL debacle.

– When will the report on the fires resulting in the loss of 65 megawatts of electrical generation at BPL be made public?

– Why are we getting generators requiring Bunker C fuel rather than the LNG as envisioned in the plan under negotiations by the last PLP government, which the FNM government canceled?

– Why was the Wartsila generators arrangement made without a public tender?

– What are the terms of the agreement with Shell, Wartsila and BPL?

– Is it correct that the base for the new Wartsila generators were not constructed ahead of their arrival in the country in June?

– When exactly will the new generators come online? We were promised September; now we are told “year’s end”.

We remind Minister Bannister that The Bahamas is a free society with a free press.

Unless the minister forgets, he is a member of a government elected with an extraordinarily large majority based upon an election manifesto which promised, among many other things, to be open, transparent and accountable.

It is hypocritical for the minister to take umbrage at being called upon to account for BPL’s failures.

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