I attended the Private Sector Commission’s Seminar on March 6, 2018: Oil and Gas in Guyana: Perspectives for the Local Private Sector, at which ministerial remarks were made by Minister of Business, Mr Dominic Gaskin. Instead of informing the audience of the measures contemplated by the Government to deliver economic and social benefits to individuals, communities, businesses and employed persons from the exploitation of non-renewable petroleum resources, the Minister stunned at least some in the audience with his attack on sections of the media, his unbelievably misinformed and inappropriate comments on the Esso/Hess/CNOOC Petroleum contract, and his incomplete and flawed contrast between oil and gold.
For brevity, here are three of the more outlandish statements on the contract by the Minister, a member of the Oil and Gas quintet and a member of Cabinet.
- That the 2016 Agreement is not a new Agreement.
The Minister needs only to compare cover pages to see that while the 1999 Agreement was with ESSO Exploration and Guyana Limited, the new Agreement is with three companies ‒ Esso, Hess and CNOOC.
- That there were no formal negotiations.
Is the Minister not embarrassed to admit that the Government has entered into the largest Agreement ever in this country, granting what amounts to a forty-year tax holiday and binding succeeding governments for the same period, without any negotiations?
- Most unbelievably of all, that the Company was under no obligation to negotiate.
Does the Minister not know that it was Exxon that requested a new Agreement and a new licence because the 1999 licence was about to expire and that Exxon threatened a GGMC Team visiting Texas last year that for Esso to start spending, a replacement petroleum licence and agreement was required?
Absent from the Seminar were the two other joint licencees ‒ Hess and CNOOC/Nexen ‒ whose silence is as troubling as is ExxonMobil, which has no legal status in Guyana, speaking for Esso, the other joint licence holder.
This is more than theory since all three licencees make up the Contractor under the Agreement and share liabilities and obligations. Absent too were other holders of prospecting licences which are also operating in Guyana and which are also subject to local content obligations.
On display too was the obsequiousness of the private sector to the Esso/Exxon people. For example, Georgetown Chamber President Deodat Indar cautioned that questions must be respectful so as not to scare away ExxonMobil on future occasions, while the Seminar’s Chairman Christopher Chapwanya refused to permit comments from the floor after the opening presentations. And so smitten were the local private sector that even veteran Norman McLean found himself indirectly justifying the 2016 Agreement by stretched comparisons with the Omai Mineral Agreement. That was particularly disappointing.
It would be unfair however not to acknowledge the courageous presentation on the Environment by Ms Annette Arjoon-Martins who identified the flawed and rushed environmental assessment study of Esso. In this week of International Women’s Day, a lone woman stood out and stood up for Guyana.