Natural Resources Minister Raphael Trotman yesterday defended the APNU+AFC administration’s “strategic relationship” with ExxonMobil, saying that it is guided by the long-term security of the state and not just future income.
Addressing a visiting US congressional delegation on Wednesday at his ministry’s office in Kingston, Trotman welcomed the entrance and involvement of American companies in the extractive industries sector, and identified ExxonMobil as a strategic national development partner.
“This government has been criticized for this strategic relationship, but we will not recoil or resile from our position as we are mindful not just about the income of tomorrow, but equally also, about the long term security of the state,” he said, according to the statement he made to the visiting lawmakers and military personnel.
Trotman further assured that this country would not nationalize the assets of American businesses or be hostile to them. “American business and interests can rest assured that we will not nationalize their interests or take actions inimical to them,” he was quoted as saying in the statement, which was released by his ministry.
ExxonMobil’s assets were seized by the Venezuelan government under Hugo Chavez’s rule in 2007 and the company said that it had lost over US$10 billion as a result.
Present at Wednesday’s meeting were Guyana Geology and Mines Commission Board Chairman Stanley Ming, National Coordinator of the Guyana Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative Dr. Rudy Jadoopat, Head of Planning and Development Unit of the Guyana Forestry Commission Pradeepa Bolonauth, Foreign Service Officer at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Sondra Cheong and Beverly Alert and Shondell France, who are responsible for public relations and administrative matters, respectively, at the ministry.
Trotman told his guests that Georgetown highly values the relationship it shares with Washington and it is “most favoured.”
“We are not unaware of the high geo-strategic value that our relationship with the United States offers both our countries, and this government intends to preserve it – even as we enjoy good relations with others. In our view however, that with the United States of America is most favoured and it is to be preserved,” he said.
Trotman expressed the hope that their visit will take bilateral relations “to a new level of engagement and mutual understanding, and also cement it for generations to come.”
And while he made no mention of the fact that petroleum is no longer under his ministry’s purview, he gave an overview of his ministry’s mandate, set out by President David Granger.
“To say a few words about this ministry in particular, our mandate as set by the President is: To develop, implement and oversee policies for the responsible exploration, development and utilization of the natural resources, whilst ensuring the protection and conservation of the environment and achievement of the ‘green economy,’” he noted.
He did, however, add that it has had the “sacred duty” of preparing the nation for first oil in 2020 and is now working with the Ministry of the Presidency to establish the Department of Energy, which will oversee all aspects of petroleum from exploration to management of the income. “While we don’t claim perfection we do claim that we have done everything humanly and legally possible to be as prepared as we can be, whilst recognizing that this journey is not a sprint and that he who started a good work will carry it on to completion,” he added.
Reflecting on the assistance the US Embassy has given in getting the foundation for this country’s Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), Trotman pointed out that his government intends to be open and transparent in the way in which the proceeds of oil and other resources are spent and saved for the benefit of the people.
“We are pleased to announce that with your support, and that of the World Bank, we qualified for membership of the body last year. And then there is the Energy Governance Capacity Initiative (EGCI), an initiative of the US Department of State that has produced for us research papers and recommendations in the areas of Fiscal Policy and Accounting, establishing a Model Petroleum Contract, best features for a National Oil Company, and Economic Modelling and Analysis of Contracts to name a few,” he stated, before also noting support from other governments and organisations.
“Simply saying “thank you” for showing an interest in our country is to understate how overjoyed we are by your arrival,” Trotman added.
Apart from the announcement of the visit, neither the government here nor the US embassy had made public any details of the reasons for it and reporters were barred from asking members of the delegation questions.
When the US Embassy here was contacted last week, through its Public Affairs Officer Amanda Cauldwell, it would only say that, “The Department of State and US embassies around the world routinely support the travel of US government officials and their staff to other countries.”
This newspaper understands that this was one such routine visit and one local government official believes that “the congressional arm wanted to physically assess persons and relations rather than rely on reports sent by the State Department or Congressional Research Service.”