Opposition leader Bharrat Jagdeo on Thursday took aim at the government’s management of the oil and gas sector, while saying that it has failed to deliver on key promises since assuming office.
At a press conference, Jagdeo also derided Cabinet’s recent high level meeting with a team of experts in the sector, calling it a public relations stunt.
“It is a public relations show. Even if they bring the best practices from around the world and speak to this Cabinet about it, there is absolutely no guarantee they will implement any of it because they have been given world class advice prior to this and they have until now ignored it,” Jagdeo said.
According to the opposition leader, an international advisor, paid for by the Inter-American Development Bank, was excluded from negotiations with ExxonMobil and his advice to auction oil blocks was ignored.
“It’s a show. They are parading the people to claim they are doing something,” he stressed.
Jagdeo also criticised President David Granger’s vision for the sector as outlined in the state newspaper, while saying that promised initiatives are yet to be realised. “This is his vision: We need to educate ourselves, we need to create the organization and structure that will manage this resource and protect our resources…. Imagine a president saying this today, when he promised, pre-election, to look into this. Three budgets have promised a petroleum commission, which we don’t have, a sovereign wealth fund, which we don’t have up to today…this framework should’ve been in place already,” Jagdeo said.
He demanded to know just what government has been doing over the last three years and questioned why there has been no attempt to involve the opposition or civil society in crafting policies to manage a sector that needs to be apolitical.
“You bring in five persons from abroad and then say we need to understand from the start that this industry is Guyanese. Where are the Guyanese in this room that you are consulting with?” Jagdeo asked, while noting that even though the government is now educating itself, it has already signed a contract which will bind the country for the next 40 years.
He added that government has earned an “F” grade on all points as real issues, such as sliding foreign reserves, are not being addressed.
“When are we laying out the principles for the sovereign wealth fund?” he asked, while noting that his party is prepared to support appropriate oil sector policies.
“We have seen how other countries which treated the sector in a political fashion never reaped benefits. If treated in an apolitical manner, we will be able to translate revenue earned into real development. The fund needs to have defined sectors for you to spend in, an investment policy detailing kinds of instruments you want the funds invested in and what parameters along with what conditions will trigger release from the fund to [the] treasury and an independent assessment that those conditions are met. Simple things, of which they have not spoken,” he explained.
Meanwhile, Jagdeo also criticised the manner in which government has observed World Water Day. He noted that the President travelled to the World Water Forum in Brasilia at a cost to the treasury which was “undoubtedly in the millions” as well as the full page colour ads with messages from several persons, including two ministers, placed by the government in the daily newspapers.
“This comes at a time when they are putting in meters and have taken the water subsidy from the elderly. It comes at a time when many are seeing a decline in the level of service and GWI [Guyana Water Incorporated] is looking to raise water rates because sums collected are not adequate. We have a government which is involved in PR—not work on the ground or dealing with real people’s issues—just public relations. They are wasting resources on useless things. These ads are almost daily,” he claimed.
Asked if he felt justified in making these criticisms when his administration maintained a vigorous public relations machinery, Jagdeo said it was a question of degree.
“The question is not zero vs PR but the degree. After criticising us, they have increased PR cost. We have a Prime Minister whose only portfolio is PR. We spend half a billion on the Prime Minister. His discretionary budget has grown from $3.3 million in 2014 to $105 million in 2018. Four centre-page ads on one issue is an obscenity you would not have seen with us,” Jagdeo stated.
He concluded that government’s PR machinery is also guilty of promoting shifting messages.
“We are a solar state when in India, then a water state, then a green state, somewhere else we’ll be an oil state. But the reality is we’ll be a poorer state soon if they continue with this approach to policy making and policy implementation,” Jagdeo stressed.