Why can the names of the oil  negotiators not be revealed?

Dear Editor,

It appears that in Guyana there are first and second class citizens. The former have all the privileged information pertaining to the licence granted to ExxonMobil while the latter are clueless in respect to the contents of the agreement and other related matters, such as who are the shadowy figures negotiating on behalf of Guyana with ExxonMobil.

How can a government be trusted when it treats its people with utter disdain and when it is generally accepted that Guyana’s natural patrimony belongs to the people and not to a selected few. The secretive nature of the current negotiations and the persons involved will only reinforce the perception that the government has something to hide. This matter should be brought to the National Assembly for an answer to be provided.

Negotiations in secret are one thing, and revealing the names of the negotiators is another. The demand is not for the contents of the negotiations to be revealed, it is for the names of the negotiators to be disclosed. The British people know who the persons are negotiating Brexit with the EU on their behalf, so why can’t we Guyanese know who are negotiating with ExxonMobil plus on our behalf?

Minister Harmon claims that the oil and gas sector is “fundamental to government’s holistic development plan”, but the nation is in the dark about the nature of this ‘holistic development plan.’ Like so many other plans which the government promised to make public this appears to be another that will probably never see the light of day ‒ assuming that such a plan exists.

But there is a much more fundamental question, will the new petroleum and gas sector be inserted in the existing economic model in which Guyana has been languishing for decades? Assuming that is precisely what will happen, it would be like pouring new wine in an old bottle.

This is an important strategic economic question which requires a national debate at all levels.

If Guyana is to make the required paradigm shift with a view to transitioning to a new and innovative economic model it would require all the available talent to sit around the table to formulate the basic tenets that would lay the foundations for placing Guyana on a new and innovative economic pathway. Is there the political will on the part of the APNU+AFC to do so?

The Chatham House guidelines call on government to formulate a “vision for the development of the country” and to consider a “clear strategic view of how the sector will contribute to that vision.” Thus far, no document laying out either the strategic view or the clear vision has been tabled in the National Assembly. And the government must take full responsibility for not doing so.

Of critical importance too is the question of democratic governance of the oil and gas economy in the context of a new and innovative economic model. The Chatham House Guidelines do not take this into account. The insertion of a pro-active EITI and the GOAG are critical to ensuring transparency and accountability in the sector.

Incidentally, the Economist recently questioned whether the oil find will corrupt the country. The magazine stressed, “it will take better politicians in the country where the government is far from strong to resist the corrosive power of petro dollars.”

The new economy will require a new governance structure. Again, this would require wide-ranging consultations with all stakeholders in order to arrive at consensual positions that would take into account the national and ethnic peculiarities of our country. The realization of this national project would require political will if it is to become a reality.

And before it’s too late, the President needs to clarify who is the Minister responsible for petroleum development. Is Minister of Natural Resources Raphael Trotman the appropriate Minister to hold the portfolio of petroleum development and to lead the sectoral negotiating team? It would be dangerous to place in the hands of one person the decision to determine the ‘special circumstances’ that would justify the issuance of production licences; this could be injurious to Guyana’s national interest. Rather it is necessary to put in place checks and balances, together with a highly competent oversight body.

Finally, the announcement by Minister Harmon that Finance Minister Jordan will be jetting off soon to Vienna to sign an agreement with the OPEC Fund for Inter-national Development (OFID) is indeed surprising. Guyana is not yet an oil producing country. It is not a full member at OPEC nor does it enjoy observer status at the organization. Moreover, it is unlikely to be a price setter for petroleum and gas on the world market. In the circumstances, the Guyanese public would like to know what Guyana’s status at OPEC is and whether government has committed the country to any financial contribution to the organization. If so, how much?

The challenge the government faces is the paucity of knowledgeable, technical and highly specialized human resources that are needed to make use of the available data. Whence these resources will be garnered and at what cost is another big challenge the government will have to confront.

Guyanese must excercise vigilance in respect of government’s actions and policy initiatives on all these matters. And demands must be made for all questions to be answered.

Yours faithfully,
Clement J Rohee

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