– Chris Ram
By Abena Rockcliffe-Campbell
The supreme law of Guyana is being violated for financial gains and is being done at the expense of the health and well-being of the nation’s citizens. This is what attorney at law, Christopher Ram contends. Ram thinks that the government is blindsided by its quest to ensure that oil production begins by the year of election and as a result little or no focus is being placed on important factors.
His factor of focus, which he said that the government is ignoring, is the environment.
Ram has had conversations with and has listened to presentations delivered by the like of Annette Arjoon-Martins, Anand Goolsarran, Melinda Janki.
The three recently delivered presentations at a forum held at Moray House. Arjoon is well known and respected for her work in environmental advocacy in Guyana, particularly in Region One at Shell Beach for the protection of marine turtles. Goolsarran is a former Auditor General who is versed in environmental auditing. He served the United Nations in Sierra Leone and Afghanistan. Melinda Janki is an attorney-at-law specialising in international environmental law and indigenous and human rights. She has worked for a number of international oil companies.
Based on the submissions of these three professionals, Ram formed an opinion. He was told of the poor Environmental Impact Assessment that the Environmental Protection Agency accepted from ExxonMobil. The company was granted an environmental permit based on that assessment.
Ram said that the Constitution of Guyana provides protection for the environment. He stated that by not ensuring that ExxonMobil does what is necessary for the health of the environment, the government is therefore violating the constitution.
“The Constitution of Guyana places great store on the environment, from Preamble to fundamental rights.”
He pointed out that the Preamble of the Guyana Constitution, which is the equivalent to a company’s vision statement, acknowledges the aspirations of young people to live in a safe society which ensures a healthy environment.
Further, Ram noted that Chapter II, Article 25 imposes a duty on every citizen to participate in activities designed to improve the environment and protect the health of the nation. And, Article 36 recognises that the well-being of the nation depends upon preserving clean air, fertile soils, pure water and the rich diversity of plants, animals and eco-systems.
“It gets more interesting, however, as there can be no doubt that the Fundamental Rights and Freedoms Article 40 provides that “every person in Guyana is entitled to the basic right to a happy, creative and productive life, free from hunger, ignorance and want. That right includes the fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual.”
The attorney said that the lacuna that Article 25 imposed on every citizen to participate in activities to improve the environment but no similar duty on the State was doubly fixed by the insertion of Article 149J. He said that that article has not only unambiguously recognised the right of everyone to an environment that is not harmful to his or her health or well-being, but also imposed a duty on the State to “protect the environment, for the benefit of present and future generations, through reasonable legislative and other measures designed, among other things, to prevent pollution and ecological degradation; promote conservation; and secure sustainable development and use of natural resources while promoting justifiable economic and social development….”
Ram said, however that there seems to be an anomaly, since only citizens and the State have duties in respect of the environment while every person has a right to a proper environment.
He said that in so far as oil exploration and production is concerned, Article 28 of the Model Petroleum Contract, which deals with the protection of the Environment, offers some measure of balance, albeit indirectly.
Ram pointed to Article 28.1 of the contract which states that the Contractor (reference to the company drilling for oil) is required to obtain an environmental authorisation from the Environmental Protection Agency and comply with the provisions of that EPA Act 1996;
Then, Article 28.2 precludes the Contractor from initiating any activity on those areas outside (that) which the EPA determines to be sensitive or protected and article 28.3 requires the Contractor to take necessary and adequate precautions against pollution and for the protection of the environment and the living resources of the sea.
However, Article 28.4 requires a Contractor who fails to comply with 28.1 to take all reasonable measures … to remedy environmental failures and their effects and to treat or disperse pollution in an environmentally acceptable manner. Ram said that the suggestion here is that such a duty only applies where there is a failure to comply with 28.1. “That seems crazy!”
Ram continued to point out that Article 28.5 requires the contractor to notify the Minister forthwith in the event of any emergency or accident and to take such action as may be prudent and necessary in such circumstances.
“Another piece of craziness is contained in 28.6 which provide that if the Contractor fails to act to control or clean up any pollution under Article 28.3 within a reasonable period specified by the Minister, the Minister may take any actions which are in accordance with good international petroleum industry practice. Now, can someone say where the Minister is going to have or to find such resources? Like in so many areas in the regulatory framework for the sector, the environmental protection clauses of the petroleum regime are woefully lacking. Is first oil in 2020 worth such risk?”
Many countries around the world have suffered as a result of oil spills and other hazards to the environment that came from oil drilling activities. Kaieteur News had done several stories highlighting such instances. Read: https://www.kaieteurnewsonline.com/2017/08/06/exxonmobil-makes-no-financial-commitment-to-deal-with-responsibilities-of-possible-oil-spill/.
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