On Tuesday last (13th inst.,), along with other Guyanese, I read in the Letters Page of SN a scurrilous contribution impugning the character of Sir Shridath Ramphal, Guyana’s former Minister of Foreign Affairs and the former Secretary General of the Commonwealth. The letter appeared over the signature of a Dr Jan Mangal. I reproduce it below in segments for ease of exposition and analysis:
QUESTION: Is/was Sir Shridath Ramphal an adviser to JHI or Mid-Atlantic (who are now Joint Venture partners with Exxon and Total in the Canje Block offshore Guyana)? Is/was he associated with any oil company in Guyana? If so, did he disclose this to Cabinet or the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and when?”
ANSWER: Guyana’s team of international lawyers led by Sir Shridath Ramphal has been retained 2015 by the Government of Guyana (GOG) since to assist in the defence of Guyana’s territorial integrity. That task is of the highest priority among the responsibilities of the Government and is the mandate of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA).
The commercial commitments of all members of the legal team have been disclosed and have been known, to the Government of Guyana since the team’s engagement. None of the team has been engaged in any paid work for any company that benefitted from the contracted work or advice provided by the legal team.
Having said that, I wish to make two further observations by way of commentary as regards the GOG position. First, I would not be so presumptuous as to purport to write in Sir Shridath Ramphal’s defence. He needs none, since his outstanding record of service to Guyana, the Caribbean and the international community is famously known.
Secondly, the legal team has been contracted to advise the Guyana MoFA group led by the MoFA. Initially, they were involved in supporting the dialogue with the UN SG and the UNSG’s Personal Representative, Mr Dag Nylander. Subsequent to the conclusion of the process of enhanced mediation they have been advising on the preparation of the case to the ICJ and in preparing the memorial for submission to the Court.
None of these roles involves any conflict of interest, meaning that at no point in the process of carrying out these tasks did Sir Shridath Ramphal gain or stand to gain any financial advantage beyond the fees paid by the Government of Guyana.
Fourthly, neither Sir Shridath Ramphal nor the team has been advising GOG on the contracts with any oil companies – be it JHI, Mid-Atlantic or Exxon. Furthermore, advice about the desirability of disclosure of the information pertaining to petroleum contracts with the consortium led by Exxon was not provided to Cabinet by the international team of lawyers. Since the work of the legal team has been exclusively on the case against Venezuela, one is left to wonder why Dr Mangal would have found it necessary to add the following commentary to what is supposed to be a question:
“Guyanese will be aware that Sir Shridath Ramphal advises the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Government on the border issue with Venezuela”.
“Guyanese will recall that there was general consensus among Ministers not to release the Exxon contract (Stabroek Block) to the public prior to December 2017”.
“It is well known that oil companies do not like transparency and prefer for contracts to be kept secret from the people”.
The question I wish to ask is, what is the connection between these things? More especially between the legal advice and the so-called secret?
In 2017 Cabinet took a decision to release or publish the contracts with the oil companies. They have been published and yet Dr Mangal returns to it. So at this stage his purpose is not transparency as he claims. We have here an attempted assassination by innuendo. There is an inference to be drawn about a concocted conflict of interest arising from the relationship between one of a team of legal advisers and oil companies. This brazen approach is intended to undermine the standing of one of Guyana’s most distinguished lawyers, one of its most prominent politicians and one of the most renowned international public servants.
But how committed is Jan Mangal to transparency? Many observers would like him to explain how he would answer Kaieteur News’ allegation about his alleged conflict of interest.
Dr Mangal’s attitude to Guyana and Guyanese also needs explanation. He hardly ever refers to the people, and more particularly the political leaders and Public Service of Guyana, without qualifying it with the adjective corrupt. To establish just how balanced he is in his in this context he has claimed that the PPP was even more corrupt than the APNU administration.
Somehow, he never managed to summon the courage to say so publicly whilst they were in office!
I suppose that his assumption about the nature of Guyanese led him to the conclusion that no security imperative can and has informed decisions about our petroleum exploration and licencing policy. Being an engineer, however gifted, does not automatically endow one with insights in every other arena even in the area of security. He does not deign to offer any evidence in support of his argument.
On the other hand all Guyanese should know that since Venezuela repudiated the 1899 Arbitration Award in 1962, the only oil companies showing an interest in exploring Guyana’s territory or maritime space, either found themselves acquired by another company (Home Oil which on being acquired had all its wells and operations in the Takatu Basin of the Rupununi immediately capped and closed, respectively), or seized by Venezuelan (Technic Perdana belonging to Anadarko) or Surinamese (CGX seismic vessel) gunboats or without sufficient funds and technical expertise to continue work when they did find positive indications.
When I reflect on all of this I am forced to ask whether the intent of Dr Mangal’s contribution is not to undermine the credibility of the legal team working in the defence of Guyana’s territory and consequently, the credibility of our case.
I am forced to ask myself, ‘why?’
Carl B Greenidge, MP
Vice President and Minister of Foreign Affairs