Move by GLSC for hydrographic surveying has political, strategic implications

Dear Editor,

A matter which appears technical on the surface and pales into significance compared to headline grabbing news such as crime, corruption in high places and challenges in the budding oil and gas sector has gratefully, caught the attention of a section of the media.

Editor, the issues I refer to are to be found in S/N:11/2/16; ‘Hydrographic surveyor completes Japan training;’

S/N:22/12/17, ‘Lands and Surveys aiming for national land policy;

S/N:22/5/19 ‘Guyana set for undersea surveying,’ S/N 25/5/19;‘Cabinet reviewing national Geo-spatial Policy, NSDI action plan’ and finally, S/N: 3/6/19, ‘GLSC to recruit historian for planned land archives.’

Observers have found rather puzzling, if not confusing, the constructing and deconstructing of internal structures within the Guyana Lands and Surveys Commission (GLSC).

Further, hiring a historian to establish a planned land archives at GLSC is fraught with serious consequences. How objective, sensitive and unbiased that historian will be as regards Guyana’s national and unique peculiarities as well as considering the entrenched customs and mores are all issues that require careful attention.

Digitizing the records of old and new leases, surveys and maps etc; stored at the GLSC can prove to be legally contentious especially when it comes to presentation of evidence in land disputes requiring a determination by the courts.

Though unrelated but nevertheless tangential, the case of the Berbice cattle farmers whose revocation of leases has now become a political issue is a microcosm of what is portended  for the national level.

Moreover, the formulation of a National Land Policy treating with land titling and ancestral lands as distinct from a National Land Use Policy which addresses the utilization of land for economic development is yet to be explained to the public.

Land use or undersea surveying for economic development has both environmental and national security implications that ought not to be underestimated. So does land alienation and insecurity. The threat of displacement of locals and loss of livelihoods is perceived as a threat to human security. And the resultant loss of the livelihoods of those who depend on the land and sea can result in conflict and authoritarian-type interventions.

What the GLSC appears to be doing is precisely what other government agencies and departments have been doing since 2015, retrieving policy papers formulated under the previous administration, embellishing and/or tweaking them to make it appear as a ‘fresh approach’ and as though the APNU+ AFC are the originators of the said policy initiatives.

Those issues aside, Mr. Trevor Benn of the GLSC has been talking a lot about institutional strengthening at GLSC and maybe justifiably so, but the burning question is, towards what end?

There is an emerging consensus among persons who have an interest in these matters that the objective behind GLSC’s moves is to have a stake in policy formulation as per the oil and gas industry and to follow the money that will flow from the sector.

But GLSC’s moves have resulted in an apparent turf war, which in turn has brought into greater focus, the unsettled question of inter-agency collaboration between GLSC, MARAD and above all, the Department of Energy in respect of oil and gas, an area of strategic and mandatory concern for each of them.

The establishment of a ‘National Hydrographic Coordinating Committee’ at GLSC and the efforts being made to set up a ‘Hydrographic Unit’ at the Commission are matters that are not solely technical in nature but of political and strategic importance to Guyana as a whole.

While GLSC is authorized to conduct land and hydrographic surveys, questions are being asked whether GLSC has the capacity to conduct hydrographic surveys, a process requiring technically trained personnel most of whom are currently stationed at MARAD.

The recent handing over to MARAD of $68m worth of hydrographic equipment last month for use in undersea surveys was seen as an indication of where the human resource capacity exists for the effective and professional use of such equipment.

The Department of Energy and the GLSC under the Ministry of the Presidency (APNU) and the Maritime Administration Department (MARAD) under the Ministry of Public Infrastructure (AFC) appear to be jockeying with each other in fulfillment of their respective mandates in the area of hydrographic surveying moreso with the prospects of financial and economic benefits looming large on the horizon.

With the pushing and shoving for space in the area of hydrographic surveying, all eyes are on the oil sector since it has become clear that what is at stake is the harvesting of revenues from the petroleum sector by the three contending agencies.

It is hoped that GLSC, will not be encouraged by the Ministry of the Presidency to behave bullishly towards other government departments who are legally authorized to play a role in hydrographic surveying in fulfillment of their respective mandates.

Established by the 1998 Shipping Act, MARAD assumed responsibility for harbours, their approaches and beyond the navigable waterways.

Moreover, the department is legally authorized to establish, oversee and maintain a hydrographic section within its organizational structure.

According to a S/N report of 11/2/16, a Japanese-trained member of staff of MARAD returned to Guyana about two years ago with a view to enhancing MARAD’s human resource capacity of its hydrographic section.

This was a step in the right direction indicating that MARAD had the foresight to recognize the importance of building capacity consistent with its hydrographic mandate.

However when all of a sudden GLSC announced that it was ‘set for undersea surveying‘ this came as a surprise to many since, from all indications, GLSC appeared to be at sea, drifting as it were, towards one of MARAD’s harbour approaches.

Though authorized to engage in hydrographic surveys, the sudden interest evinced by GLSC in this area, appears to be driven by certain vested interests at the Ministry of the Presidency, whose primary aim its seems, at this stage, is to mobilize and ensure that funds from the petroleum sector, become available through fees for licensing permits for foreign vessels associated with the oil and gas industry as well as from the approval of permits for marine infrastructure levied on foreign investors in that sector.

Yours faithfully,

Clement J. Rohee

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