…But APNU+AFC Govt. continues to hide Exxon’s
In the interest of transparency and accountability— a principle that the APNU+AFC
Government campaigned on—over 50 countries around the world engage in the practice of making oil and gas contracts open to the citizenry for scrutiny.
This is according to Openoil.net. These contracts are also available for download on that website.
Openoil has one of the world’s first comprehensive archive lists of oil contracts. These are pulled from states such as Mexico, Angola, Chad, Guatemala, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Egypt, Kazakhstan, Syria, and Ukraine. USA oil giant, ExxonMobil has operations in all of the mentioned countries in which disclosure of contracts is practiced.
Officials, who support the Openoil webpage, categorically believe that all contracts which govern publicly owned natural resources and the livelihoods of people should be placed into the open for all to access and examine.
But this is not the case at the moment in Guyana.
For 23 years under the People’s Progressive Party (PPP), the media, and the citizenry by extension, have not had access to a single major developmental contract.
Some of these contracts in question involve the Sanata Complex deal, Baishanlin Forest Development, Vaitarna Holdings Private Inc., the Marriott Hotel and the Berbice Bridge.
A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) and the Alliance For Change (AFC), while in opposition, spoke against the fact that these contracts had been kept from public scrutiny for years. But now that the coalition is in office, it sings a different tune.
AFC Government officials say that the contracts cannot be released because contained in them, are strict nondisclosure clauses which were signed onto by the PPP. It insists that these obviously have to be adhered to. Meanwhile, APNU Government officers say that all contracts should be released once they do not infringe upon security issues. Specifically uttering such sentiments was President David Granger during a previous interview with this newspaper.
The Government’s recent actions, however, have led some critics to believe that it is walking in the same footsteps of its predecessor when it comes to the release of contracts. When it comes to the contract between the Government and Exxon Mobil, the Government is adamant that it will not be making it public at this time.
One of its reasons for taking such a position is the fact that there are non-disclosure elements in the Petroleum Exploration and Production Act.
Be that as it may, the Opposition has spoken against this posture taken by the Government.
In fact, Former Minister of Legal Affairs, Anil Nandlall has expressed the view that the Government is misusing the law in this regard, so as to hide from Guyanese the details of the contract it closed with Exxon.
Nandlall 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.
He replied, “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 the 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. He 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 Exxon.
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 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.
“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.”
Trotman 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.
Sources : http://openoil.net/ ,http://openoil.net/2014/11/11/openoil-launches-repository-385-oil-contracts-from-54-countries-one-click-away/
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