Harmon to be answerable for oil and gas sector

With the planned Department of Energy under the Ministry of the Presidency to assume responsibility for the oil and gas sector, Minister of State Joseph Harmon will become the person answerable to the legislature.

“…the Minister of State will answer in the Parliament for any matter as it relates to the Ministry of the Presidency,” Harmon told a post-Cabinet briefing on Friday.

Questions have been raised about who would take on the responsibility for tabling bills, answering questions during consideration of budgetary estimates and questions by the opposition since  Minister of Natural Resources Raphael Trotman announced the creation of the Department of Energy (DoE).

Trotman announced two weeks ago 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.

Trotman recently told Stabroek News when he conceived the plan for the forming of the DoE,  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 said.

“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.

Harmon on Friday echoed most of what Trotman said, while pointing out that Cabinet was informed that “owing to the complexity of the task of administrating the huge resources of the industry, it was felt that a special department should be set up under the aegis of the Ministry of the Presidency for its management.”

He explained that among the department’s portfolio would be  to provide an organisational structure, legislation, negotiations with potential investors, exploration and production licences, public communication, the engagement of technical experts, establishment of a sovereign wealth fund, capacity building measures, among other things.

He explained that government’s current “quintet” of ministers that overlook the sector—ministers Dominic Gaskin, Winston Jordon, David Patterson, Harmon and Trotman—would advise on matters relating to the oil and gas sector and will make recommendations concerning the functions of the department.

However, no mention was made of what if any role presidential advisor Jan Mangal would play in the Department of Energy.

Harmon said that under the Ministry of the Presidency, “the quintet team will receive direct guidance from his Excellency the President.”

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