Oil summit opens today

The inaugural Guyana International Petroleum Business Summit (GIPEX) opens today at the Marriott Hotel in Georgetown, promising networking opportunities for both local and international businesses with key players in the oil and gas sector.

Participants in the three-day event will see a host of speakers, including President David Granger, who will deliver the keynote address today, Minister of Natural Resources Raphael Trotman, Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) Country Representative Sophie Makonnen, Vice President for the Americas of the ExxonMobil Development Company Lisa Waters, former Premier of Alberta, Canada Alison Redford and Senior Vice President for the Americas of the Exploration-Production Division of Total, Michel Hourcard.

The conference is being hosted by the Ministry of Natural Resources, with the Guyana Office for Investment (Go-Invest) as the lead organising partner.

“GIPEX 2018 is an important initiative to promote Guyana’s Petroleum Sector. GIPEX presents the investors a great way to explore the huge potential of this historic country,” the GIPEX website states.

“The event will lay the foundation to establish a dynamic relationship between the Minister of Natural Resources and the Private Sector with full co-operation from other Government Departments, all working to make Guyana a favourable and pro-business destination, a pre-requisite for boosting economic activities and achieving development objectives. Plus much more…,” it adds.

A number of sessions are planned over the next three days, including one on the impact of the oil discovery on Guyana and managing expectations and preparing for the new reality and effective management of the country’s oil and gas resources. Minister Trotman will be part of the five-member panel for the session along with Minister of Public Telecommunications Cathy Hughes, Minister of Public Infrastructure David Patterson, President of the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Deodat Indar and a representative from the Ministry of Finance.

A session on the effective management of Guyana’s oil and gas resources will be chaired by Chairman of the Guyana Revenue Authority, Rawle Lucas and that panel will include Redford, Makonnen, Senior Country Officer of the World Bank Group Pierre Nadji and opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP) member Charles Ramson Jr.  Government’s attorney, who was witness and signatory to the controversial Production Sharing Agreement (PSA) with ExxonMobil, Joanna Homer will also be on the panel for the session.

She will also Chair Day Two’s session on The Regulatory Framework, where Guyana Oil and Gas Association member and attorney Nigel Hughes, Senior Partner in the law firm Clyde & Co David Hesse and attorneys Peter Murphy and Sally Gibon will be panelists.

Day three will see Minister within the Ministry of Natural Resources Simona Broomes and President of the Guyana Oil and Gas Energy Chamber Manniram Prashad facilitating a workshop on doing business in the oil and gas sector in Guyana.

Another workshop chaired by Reservoir Engineer Denis Pieters will also be held.

While it is unclear how much government will spend on the event, its sponsors include ExxonMobil, GTT, Eco Atlantic, Tiger Tanks, El Dorado Offshore and GBTI.

‘Bread and circus’

Despite the high expectations for the conference, in a statement issued yesterday, the opposition PPP said the programme for the event lacks substance and charged that it seems to be just another talk shop for government as it tries to distract the public from burning social and economic issues.

“We have examined the programme and it does not help one to understand what is the true nature and objective of this event. This activity seems to be another “bread and circus” exhibition, which the government will use in its propagandistic efforts to divert attention away from the real problems of joblessness, poverty, crime and overall hopelessness engulfing the nation,” the PPP/C statement read.

“The Government has developed a propensity to launch distractive confabulations like these to hide its incompetence and incapacity to deal with the real problems facing our citizens. From the outset, we have stated that any competent Government inviting investment interests in the sector must set out clear policy objectives; must establish the requisite architecture and create an attractive environment that will conduce to investments. None of these prerequisites currently exists. On the contrary, the entire sector is mired in controversies, chaos and confusion,” it added.

Pointing to concerns in the oil and gas sector, the PPP reminded that the Petroleum Bill, which ought to set out the legal framework and policy infrastructure for the sector, is still before a parliamentary select committee and it has not met to date.

“The Bill itself is deeply flawed, in that it preponderates excessive power and authority in the subject Minister. Even the Minister is on record as so admitting and has promised to shed some of these powers,” it said.

“The promised Sovereign Wealth Fund has not been established; neither is there any clear policy in relation to local content. The contract itself is overwhelmed in controversy. The signing bonus still resides, unlawfully and unconstitutionally, in an account in the Central Bank instead of the Consolidated Fund. No explanation is forthcoming from the Government in respect of the multiplicity of criticisms and queries raised in the press and by Guyanese everywhere about the contract. All we have from the Government is a glib indication that future contracts will not be similarly structured and negotiated. There is absolutely no clarity on the Government’s “Green State Strategy”; neither is there any guidance in respect of how this will impact or interface with the petroleum sector” it added.

On the grounds of its criticisms, the PPP stated that it has “no alternative but to conclude that this event is another publicity gimmick of the Government, where those in attendance will have to endure another platitudinal speech of the President and more exhibition of Minister Trotman’s remarkable incompetence.”

‘Not a press event’

Meanwhile, the Guyana Press Association (GPA) yesterday initially urged media houses against covering the conference over “burdensome constraints” imposed by the organisers on the media corps. A subsequent clarification issued by local public relations firm Sagacity, which is the media liaison for the conference, resulted in the GPA urging media houses to provide coverage.

Owen Verwey, Head of Go-Invest, which is the principal organiser, told Stabroek News that the conference “is not a press event” and therefore it only catered for the opening ceremony to be covered by the media.

He explained that participants paid to attend the event and if media houses wanted to be a part of those sessions they could pay. “If you wanted to be a part of that, it costs US$750 per person,” Verwey said, when told that this newspaper was interested in hearing from panelists during the regulatory framework discussion.

“It is a paid event and it is not fair to those who paid to have someone come and sit in and then report on everything that was said for the public to know. In that case, I might as well had stayed home and just read about what happened in the papers,” he posited.

“It is not a press event for coverage. We hired [partner] Valiant and Valiant [sub-contracted] Sagacity. It was a decision of the planning committee. Sagacity will be responsible for what goes to the media,” he added.

Organisers stated that its communications team will make arrangements “to facilitate interviews between media personnel and key participants of the summit and exhibition.” As a result, GIPEX stated that “unauthorised interviews” in the conference hall were not permitted and that its media room will be used for “pre-planned interviews.”

Besides the opening session where the President and Minister will address attendees, all others will be closed to local private media houses, it further noted.

As a result, the GPA wrote the organisers objecting to the arrangements.

“We object to: a. Closed door sessions about an industry that Guyana and Guyanese know little about. We believe that transparency and open discourse is at the heart of the natural resources sector which is the patrimony of all Guyanese b. The concept of unauthorised interviews. This is unheard of at any international conference where authorisation must first be sought before someone can be interviewed. This smacks of gross disrespect and a violation of Access to Information and Media Freedom,” it stated in the letter.

“We acknowledge that there may be roles for the Communication personnel to act as liaisons wherever necessary but not to grant or refuse permission/ authorisation,” it added.

Sagacity, in its subsequent clarification, said that the media is allowed full and open access to the opening ceremony area and a media room which has been allocated to facilitate all aspects of the coverage required.

But it pointed out that the private discussions held between the stakeholders, including the sponsors, are not open to the public.

“The media were invited via email to provide full coverage of the opening ceremony for GIPEX 2018. The full agenda for the three (3) day event was provided to the media via email. The media were advised that a media room would be made available from which all accredited media personnel could operate. As such, GIPEX is baffled as to why the GPA would conclude that the media were disrespected if during planning for the event an entire room was organised for them to operate from at the event’s venue,” the statement said.

“The media were advised that some sessions would be open to photography only and as such a facility was put in place to arrange interviews with officials on request and to ensure that there is a smooth flow of processes at the event. The media were advised that daily updates and photos would be provided by the GIPEX Communications team. In light of the fact that a media room has been designated for media use, the media were advised that interviews could not be authorised to take place in the main conference area. The intention behind this is for the main conference area to be free for ingress and egress of participants. They were also communicated with – regarding the prospect of Sagacity assisting in arranging interviews with participants for them,” it added, while also noting that many persons expressed satisfaction with the rules given.

The firm stated that the event’s hosts remains open to facilitating the media and looks forward to working with GPA to make the event a national event a success.

The GPA subsequently noted Sagacity’s clarification and assurance of unfettered media access offered by GIPEX.

“The association was principally concerned about the explicit condition of “unauthorised interviews” in GIPEX’s original “media guidelines” which made them altogether an unacceptable and intolerable restriction on media freedom. We now note that GIPEX has stated that the media would no longer require authorisation to conduct interviews but will not be authorised to conduct interviews in the main conference area. That is certainly a vast difference from the original rule,” it said.

While it also urged media houses to cover the conference, it also urged the organisers to take note that similar events in the United States and Trinidad and Tobago do not have any media restrictions for media workers.

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