—TIGI Head says citizens deserve to be ‘in the know’
By Kiana Wilburg
Confidentiality clauses, among other legal tricks have been used in the past to ensure that there is a ‘safe’ distance between questioning citizens and the contracts governing projects which have relied on millions of tax dollars.
And while the APNU and AFC have spoken against this practice, not much has changed about the release of contracts since the coalition party took office.
With this in mind, the head of Transparency Institute Guyana Inc. (TIGI), Dr. Troy Thomas, is urging that the government pay attention to the mistakes of the past especially as it relates to contracts that are shrouded in secrecy.
On this premise, Dr. Thomas said that the government must shed a light of transparency on the contract for USA oil giant, Exxon Mobil.
Dr. Thomas said, “The way certain things are being done, you can end up repeating the things of the past. The secrecy surrounding contracts serves no one but the people handling the contracts. You have the Exxon Mobil exploration going on for example but we don’t know the details of the contract.”
TIGI Head continued, “I don’t expect Exxon to say release it (the contract). They don’t have to tell the world what’s going on. That is good for them but on the other hand the government has to recognize that they are running a country and the people need to be in the know.”
The University Lecturer added, “When they are in the know, they can bring their skills and knowledge, they can criticize things that are happening and that can cause you to think, ‘Is this the best approach?’ But when that process is circumvented… and things are done in the shadows then this is not a good sign.”
The TIGI Head alluded to the point that Guyana could end up in a situation where, 10 years from now, it realizes that something should have been done that wasn’t.
Minister of Natural Resources, Raphael Trotman, told this publication back in March, that the Exxon contract applies to the entire Stabroek Block – where the company and its partners are exploring offshore Guyana.
He had stated, also, that Government is reviewing the contract in order to update it so that any future arrangement will be contemporary with what is prevailing in the industry. This process, he said, is being done by both local and foreign experts.
The Minister informed that the contract which was signed in 1999 has essentially maintained its original form.
“We inherited the contract from the former government. Government took the decision to look at, but avoided reopening the contract in its entirety for negotiations. We didn’t want it to go abroad that Guyana was a place where we didn’t respect the sanctity of contracts entered into, and we thought it best to preserve what we had found, it was not altogether a bad contract,” Trotman has said.
The Government has since taken the decision to inject a few clauses into the Exxon contract. It has decided against removing any existing provisions in the document.
As it relates to making the contract public, Trotman said that government at this time is of the view that full disclosure would not be in the national interest.
To justify this position, Trotman made reference to the biblical story of Hezekiah, a king who had exposed the riches of his nation to the Syrians; after which the prophet Isaiah accosted him for exposing all his possessions, telling him that all will be lost.
It has been over two years, and the government is yet to release a number of contracts and concession agreements which have been requested by the media. This is in spite of the fact that President David Granger had given the permission or the “okay” for this to be done.
Kaieteur News had raised this issue with the Minister of State, Joseph Harmon, at his post-Cabinet press briefing.
Harmon was told that members of the media have been calling for the release of concession agreements for BaiShanLin Forest Development Inc, Vaitarna Holdings Private Inc. and the contract governing the Sanata Complex deal. But these are yet to be released even though media operatives were told before that they can be made available.
The Cabinet Secretary had said, “I cannot say anything about it. It is a matter which has been brought to the attention now of the government that these are contracts that are required.”
Harmon continued, “There is a process by which you get access to these contracts. But I cannot specifically address the ones that you have spoken about because the impact of these contracts has been widely reported in the same newspaper that you are connected to.”
The Minister of State added, “But I cannot say with respect to the contracts why they are not released and where they are but I believe that any contracts in that regard they will have to be at the Ministry of Finance. That is where it should be.”
Apart from the Head of State giving the permission for contracts to be released, his sentiments have also been echoed in the past by Finance Minister, Winston Jordan.
He had said that information regarding any aspect of the concessions granted to foreign and/or local companies under the past regime is not state secrets.
Jordan said that the media, or any member of the public for that matter, have a right to know how the nation has benefitted in this regard. He reiterated that data on such subjects should not be treated as “state secrets”.
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