The legislation for Guyana’s proposed Natural Resources Fund (NRF) should be safeguarded by requiring a two-thirds parliamentary majority for alterations, according to chartered accountant and attorney Christopher Ram, who says in the current political climate laws could be undone by a slim majority with a change of government.
“You pass it one day, you can ‘unpass’ it the next day. Where is the protection?” Ram asked rhetorically at the opening ceremony of an Energy Forum, which was hosted at Duke Lodge, in Kingston, by the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI). He added, “Whenever they feel like, they change the laws to suit themselves. The PPP/C did it; the APNU+AFC is doing it.”
Ram said that as it is currently envisaged the NRF, also known as the Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF), will not be protected once it is vulnerable to being altered by a one-seat majority in the National Assembly.
The challenge, however, he said, is that some changes will have to be made to Article 164 of the Constitution, which deals with procedure for altering the Constitution, but a referendum will be needed to do that.
“Is this government going to do that? Is the PPP/C going to do it? We know they ran this country and that article should have been changed a long time ago. We are too lazy to do that,” he said.
Looking at the green paper on the management and establishment of a fiscal rule and a SWF, Ram said there was not a hint of a size of the revenues for the fund being discussed and the government has not found the time to say what kind of money they are talking about. “All this talk about a Natural Resources Fund or Sovereign Fund and we don’t know what it is,” he lamented. The reason why no one has disclosed a sum for the NRF, he said, is because “our new lords and masters, ExxonMobil” has not said what the cost of production is going to be. “One of the most fundamental components of the equation of the Natural Resource Fund is what is going to be the cost of production,” he said.
Prior to his presentation, Chief Executive Officer of the GCCI Richard Rambarran presented an overview of the green paper on the NRF.
A government official had been invited to make the presentation but was unable to do so.
Ram said the presentation should have been made by the government and not by the chamber of commerce.
“What I find mind-boggling is that government agencies are involved in the energy sector and not a single one of them, from the reports I have had, could find the time or make the effort to take part in this consultation,” he chided.
These included the Ministry of Natural Resources, whose offices are next door to Duke Lodge, the Department of Energy, which has a statutory responsibility for energy, and the Petroleum Unit of the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission, which under the Petroleum Exploration and Production Act still retains the responsibility and the functions for petroleum. “The Ministry of Finance, which is going to collect and spend the money, and the Bank of Guyana which is supposed to be the authority to manage the Natural Resources Fund, not a single one of them,” he said, could have been found to make the presentation.
“It is a national disgrace and I don’t think the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry should have done the work of the government,” he added.
Immediately after making his presentation, Ram left so he could not defend his own presentation.
Also making a presentation on the SWF was attorney Charles Ramson Jnr.