“Every time the government makes an excuse to not release that contract, the people of Guyana are convinced further that ExxonMobil has bought them out. I’m serious. That is the view that is out there. Every time they make one of these unfounded and unsubstantiated statements to justify their actions, they are taking the Guyanese people for a ride…”
Those were the words of Opposition Member and former Junior Finance Minister, Bishop Edghill.
The politician believes that if it is true as the Government purports, that Guyana is getting the best deal with the USA oil giant as compared to what obtains in other jurisdictions, then it should have no problem making it open to the public.
Edghill said that the failure of the Government to release the contract to date raises a fundamental question, “Whose interest is the Government really serving? It is certainly not that of the people.”
The Opposition Member stressed that the ExxonMobil contract is perhaps the most important agreement that Guyana would have entered into since its independence. He said that it is even the view of many Guyanese that there is not even any other investment in this country that is as significant and life-changing as this oil and gas deal.
Edghill went further to state that when ExxonMobil was engaged under the PPP, there was an exploration agreement.
“It has found the oil and now we are into a production mode. So while you had a foreign company that was investing all the money and taking all the risk for the purposes of exploration, we have arrived at what I would call a watershed moment; where we are talking now about production, profit sharing and benefits to the nation.”
Edghill emphasized that the future of every Guyanese is involved in whatever is signed off on that dotted lines of the contract. As such, he said that all Guyanese need to be aware of what are the terms and conditions in the contract. Edghill also said that both the Government and ExxonMobil should see it as a necessary action to make the contract public.
“The Government as the custodian of power should initiate this action; stop making excuses and stop seeking cover under the argument of secrecy clauses. If it is true that Guyana is getting the best deal as compared to what obtains in other jurisdictions, the Granger administration should be proud of it and let the whole world see it; let the whole world see that they have championed the cause of the Guyanese people with ExxonMobil.”
Edghill said that this single act of not making this contract public certifies the level of hypocrisy that exists in the APNU+AFC Government.
The Opposition Member said that prior to the May 2015 General and Regional Elections, the APNU+AFC Party told the citizenry that they will be transparent.
He reminded that the Party campaigned on the tune that the PPP is the one doing secret deals and that they would be different. Edghill said that with the ExxonMobil contract, the APNU+AFC Government has a prime opportunity to show the nation that it is transparent.
He said that the proof is not in the talk but in the action.
MISUSE OF THE LAW
The Government has categorically stated that it is unable to release the contract with oil giant, ExxonMobil. One of its reasons for this decision is that the law, specifically the Petroleum Exploration and Production Act, does not allow for such disclosures.
But according to former Minister of Legal Affairs and Attorney General, Anil Nandlall, the government is misusing the law in this regard.
Kaieteur News had asked Nandlall to say if the PPP would be willing to support the amendment of nondisclosure aspects of the law 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.”
Simply put, 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 this regard, 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 as ours 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 in any way 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.
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