Minister of Natural Resources Raphael Trotman has denied that the plan to establish a Department of Energy to oversee the petroleum sector is due to the criticism directed at both him and the government over the contract negotiated with ExxonMobil’s local subsidiary and its partners.
“It was not inspired by criticisms because the president had it with him for several months. But certainly, I believe, it turned out to be in our best interests because I will not be the target for an otherwise good industry that is coming and I believe it will remove the distractions,” Trotman told Stabroek News on Wednesday, while emphasising the need for the president’s guidance in directing the way forward.
Following last Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting, Trotman announced that a Department of Energy, focused only on the development of the petroleum sector, would be established within the Ministry of the Presidency within the next six months.
According to a Ministry of the Presidency statement, Trotman said he proposed the department to the president last year.
“Eventually the expectation is that the Ministry of Natural Resources will hand over responsibility of the function of petroleum to this new Department and we will see a more direct and focused mandate from this Department of Energy and we will, of course, as a Cabinet, be supporting the Department,” he was quoted as saying.
Cabinet has mandated that Trotman head a Task Force, which would comprise the Finance, State, Public Infrastructure and Business ministers, to formulate a proposal for the development of the mandate of the Department of Energy, as well as how it will be structured and staffed. The Public Security, Public Telecommunications, Education and Social Protection ministers are also expected to be included.
Trotman told Stabroek News that when he conceived the department last year, it was long before criticisms over the ExxonMobil contract and based solely on his assessment that petroleum needed its own ministry .
“That petroleum is taking up 80% of our functioning,” he said, while noting that the Natural Resources Ministry has other responsibilities, including the gold, bauxite and forestry sectors.
“It really needs to stand on its own. We are heading towards production in a matter of months. The normal turnaround time [globally] is about 10 years… but this is just record time. So, it is that and we also we continue to have multiple discoveries,” he further stated.
“My intention is I want the president to determine the future. In other words, the vision has to come from him. Like other ministers, we will all have a different part to play but as head of the task force I will work with the other ministers and we will design what we think is an appropriate model… For example, in Trinidad there is a department of energy… The other thing is, inasmuch as I enjoy being minister with responsibility, oil is going to be what sugar was two, three hundred years ago. It will literally become the driver and pivot of the economy of Guyana. It will affect both positive and could, in a negative way, our culture our society. It is going to change Guyana in every sphere of our lives and I believe, as I did the critical analysis last year, that it really needs to be closer to the president. The president should be able to shape the vision,” he added.
Trotman also said the proposed Department of Energy would in no way affect the establishment of the planned Petroleum Commission because they both have different roles.
“The two things are not to be confused… one is governmental and the other is regulatory. So the commission is an imperative, so that goes ahead,” he said.
“There is nothing wrong with them being a semi-autonomous agency where they answer to a minister. Under our constitution, the president is minister of all ministries. He delegates. That is how our constitution is framed. The president delegates to others,” he added.
Trotman was also confident that the Department of Energy would only be a start and that would likely evolve into a ministry. “We will move from a department into a full ministry. So, we have to start. It is a department in the same way you have departments within the Ministry of the Presidency. My expectation is that it would start there and then branch out. I think that the hope is that we would have a standalone ministry dealing with just petroleum matters because petroleum will become, in a sense, the central matter for our economy and everything,” he added.
Trotman noted that after the establishment of the department, he is prepared to serve in any role the president places him. “I am as always prepared to serve in any capacity. I have gone through many iterations. I never expected to become a minister but here I am. Not like me to try to hold on or cling to anything but I am here to support,” he said.