Opposition Senator Franka Alexis-Bernardine has described as “deeply disturbing,” the presence of two Caucasian men believed to be closely associated with oil and gas explorers, Global Petroleum Group (GPG), at last week Tuesday’s sitting of the Upper House.
The two men, suspected to be Russians, were noticed sitting in Parliament during the debate on the controversial Hydrocarbon Incentive Bill, which provides major incentives for oil and gas investors.
A former New National Party (NNP) government through its line Minister, Gregory Bowen, signed an oil and gas exploration agreement with GPG in March 2005 giving permission for the company to search for oil and gas in Grenadian waters.
Approximately one month ago, Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell announced that the Russian company would soon begin the search for “oil and gas” believed to be on the floor bed of Grenada’s maritime waters.
A few days earlier, the Hydrocarbon Incentive Bill was introduced and passed in the Lower House of elected Parliamentarians.
During what can be described as a very heated debate on the Bill at last week Tuesday’s sitting of the
Upper House of Parliament, Sen. Bernardine, along with Sen. Keith Clouden joined Political Leader of the main opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) Sen. Nazim Burke in staging a walk out from the House.
The incident was sparked by the decision taken by President of the Senate, Chester Humphrey to ask Burke to discontinue his contribution on a “point of relevance”in which he was giving background information on the more than 10-year-old GPG/Government of Grenada relationship.
Addressing her concern during an emergency press conference called by the NDC immediately after the walk-out, Sen. Bernardine said she found the presence of the ”Russians” in the official gallery as being very “intimidating,” especially during the debate on the controversial bill.
“Their attire, when they first came into the house, (clad) in short pants and casual shoes left a lot to be desired in terms of respect for the house and what was happening”, she said.
“Fortunately, they seemed to be better advised during the course of the proceedings, left and returned in more formal wear but sat in the official gallery, which I see as a very intimidating posture,” she added.
The former Education Minister was amazed to see persons who were directly involved in negotiations with government sitting in Parliament while a bill involving them was being debated.
“I am not in the habit of having people that you are in the process of negotiating with sitting and attending a debate while a decision is being taken as to whether they should be the ones to receive the contract or not,” she remarked.
“It is unfortunate that our standards have stooped to that level, whereby they (the Russians) could sit comfortably…as the debate in the house on whether they should be awarded the contract or not is ongoing.
Sen. Bernadine spoke of feeling very “uncomfortable and threatened security-wise from the presence of the Russians in the Senate session while pointing out that there are security issues that must be given consideration, which she is very much concerned with.
“The fact that they were sitting there in the privileged section of the House is unacceptable and we ought not to feel threatened and I felt somewhat threatened by their presence there … and would want such a matter to be considered and looked at,” she quipped.
The attempt to drill for oil and gas comes as Grenadians are getting ready to start the campaign for the next general election in which the Mitchell-led NNP is boasting of another clean sweep of all 15 seats in Parliament.
The 70-year old Mitchell has been talking in recent years about his legacy.
Mitchell has won the most elections as a Prime Minister in Grenada but in the process took the national debt from EC$373 million in mid-1995 to over EC$1.8 billion when he lost the 2008 general election.
He was voted back into power in 2013 after a split in the Congress government of Tillman Thomas in which several ministers were expelled and later took out membership with the NNP.