Aug 10, 2017 News
– Nandlall insists document must be laid in National Assembly
Former Minister of Legal Affairs, Anil Nandlall has accused the Government of misusing the law to hide from Guyanese the details of the contract it closed with oil giant, ExxonMobil.
He made this comment, among others, at a press conference that was held by the Opposition yesterday.
He was asked by Kaieteur News if the PPP was willing to support the amendment of nondisclosure aspects of the Petroleum Exploration and Production Act so as to ensure that the contract is released to the public.
Nandlall said, “That is another misuse of the law. No law will prohibit a people from being acquainted or being fed information that is in the national interest and in the public interest. There is no law that will do that.”
The former Legal Affairs Minister insisted that the Constitution guarantees every citizen, access to certain types of information as well as a right to receive information.
He said that if there is a law that stops that type of information that is so vital, information that concerns the nation’s most treasured asset, then it obviously collides with the Constitution.
“If that law (The Petroleum Commission Act) is being used, then it is being used in an abusive way. That law is to protect, perhaps certain confidential (things)…not hide the entire contract from the people of this country.”
Nandlall stressed that the ExxonMobil contract should be laid in the National Assembly. The former Minister of Legal Affairs said that there is no contract that is more important than the Exxon contract, since Guyana achieved its independence.
Even with the Petroleum Exploration and Production Act up for review, the Government may not be in a hurry to remove those parts of the law which inhibit the release of contracts, particularly the one between the coalition administration and USA oil giant Exxon Mobil.
Kaieteur News had asked Minister of Natural Resources, Raphael Trotman, if Government would be open to removing the parts of the law which seem to prohibit the release of details within oil production contracts.
In response, he said: “Laws are made with specific purposes in mind. In law, we speak of ‘curing a mischief’ and so one has to first determine what was the ‘mischief’ that the framers of the 1986 Act wanted to cure or address and what were the expected benefits from non-disclosure before going to just remove it.”
The seasoned attorney-at-law also noted that Guyana is a small, vulnerable and growing nation.
“I believe that the framers of the law wanted to safeguard our national patrimony without us ‘showing off’ percentage to the world, which is not always a hospitable and welcoming place.” Trotman stated.
The Minister said that one can compare Guyana to Botswana, which has done very well in managing its resources and the wealth from those resources without baring everything to the world.
“And yet, it is recognized as a state that has done well; despite not being very open about its affairs.”
While the Government may not be in a hurry to make changes to the law, Trotman told Kaieteur News that this should not be misconstrued to mean that the Government has no intention to amend the Petroleum Act. In fact, Trotman emphasized that it has to be amended. The Minister revealed that the Commonwealth Secretariat is assisting with the redraft.
The Natural Resources Minister said, “…We have received professional advice from overseas that at the present time, we should treat matters of patrimony delicately and not rush to publish everything…”
He added, “We have since asked the Commonwealth Secretariat to review the Act and regulations and those should be ready by October for stakeholders to review before finalizing and taking it to Parliament. I don’t see us rushing this in 2017 but taking our time.”
The Natural Resources Minister insisted that the entire act, including the nondisclosure clause added by former President Bharrat Jagdeo in 1997, is under review.
“We wait to be advised,” he added.
Transparency Institute Guyana Inc., among other bodies, has been calling for the release of the Exxon Mobil Contract. But TIGI has since noted that the law seems to provide a built-in secrecy clause.
TIGI noted that Part II, S4 of the Act (http://goinvest.gov.gy/wp-content/uploads/Petroleum-Exploration-and-Production-cap6510-.pdf) provides as follows:
“4. (1) Subject to subsection (2), no information furnished, or information in a report submitted, pursuant to this Act by a licensee shall be disclosed to any person who is not a Minister, a public officer or an employee of the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission except with the consent of the licensee.
(3) Where a licensee is a party to a petroleum agreement the right of the licensee, his servants or agents to disclose information about prospecting or production operations under the licence shall be subject to any restrictions or limitations in that respect specified in the agreement.
(4) Any person who discloses information in contravention of this section shall, on summary conviction, be liable to a fine of seventy-five thousand dollars and imprisonment for three years.”
TIGI noted that this clause was inserted in 1997 and its application would mean that all the information released to the public is what the oil companies now talking to Government of Guyana want released.
The body said that it is not clear on whether this applies to the contract and is specifically asking the Government to provide clarity in this regard.
TIGI also expressed concerned about the very existence of this confidentiality clause and wants to know whether it can expect to see it removed in the revised act which is due shortly.
Furthermore, considering that contract secrecy can be injurious to countries rich with natural resources such as oil, TIGI is urging the Government to publish all contract drafts with USA oil giant, ExxonMobil.
The body is also calling for Parliament to be able to shine a light of transparency on all negotiations between Guyana and the said company.
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