By Abena Rockcliffe-Campbell
Dr. David Hinds, Dr Troy Thomas and Christopher Ram have all constantly advocated for the release of the contract that was inked between ExxonMobil and the APNU+AFC government. Today, they are all satisfied that their strong and consistent advocacy paid off.
Dr. David Hinds, a political commentator and executive member of the Working People’s Alliance (WPA), told this newspaper that the government’s commitment to release the contract is definitely a step in the right direction. He added that this sort of result proves the power of advocacy and critique in the democratic process.
“In this regard the Kaieteur News, the WPA and other individuals did Guyana a tremendous service,” said Dr. Hinds.
“But I think, the fact that the government relented after being initially adamant, is cause for mild optimism about the ability of this government to listen to constructive criticism and change course. I hope this is the beginning of the kind of political maturity that so many people expected from this government but which it has failed to consistently deliver.”
Dr. Hinds said that the essence of democracy is the capacity of governors to listen to and hear the pleas of the governed and to respond to them in favourable ways. The political scientist said that there can be no doubt that releasing the contract to the public is the right thing to do in the name of transparency and democratic governance.
“I hope that this is not a one-off gesture, but the beginning of an open process in the oil sector and other areas of governance.”
Dr. Hinds also said that Civil Society must continue to be the watchdog in the society. “And the government must rise above systemic secrecy and embrace a culture of transparency and respect for the will of the people.”
President of Transparency International Guyana Inc (TIGI), Dr. Troy Thomas, also lauded the decision by the government to do “what is right and transparent.”
He said that the decision to release the contract “It took quite a long time but I was still happy when I opened the newspaper and saw that the government plans to release it. I hope that they follow through on it and that this sort of transparency transcends to other sectors.”
Dr. Thomas said that the citizens of Guyana deserve to be involved in issues that play a role in their prosperity. “They must know details of contracts as this allows them to hold firms accountable. In that way, the people can monitor if what is delivered is what was agreed.”
Dr. Thomas said that when contracts are kept secret, citizens have nothing to use as an instrument for measurement.
Attorney at law, Christopher Ram, said that Cabinet deserves credit for its decision to make the contract public. He said that credit is especially due since “we are told that experts had advised (Minister of Natural Resources) Trotman that it would be a breach of the law for the Government to do so. I am sure that the Government will not regret this decision as there really is nothing to lose.”
Ram said that Guyana will be joining a growing list of countries which make their extractive contracts and licences public.
Ram said that a report titled, Past the Tipping Point, published earlier this year by Natural Resource Governance Institute and written by Don Hubert and Rob Pitman concluded that it is becoming increasingly normal for member countries of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) to disclose the contracts and licences that lay out the terms for resource exploitation.
Ram said that no doubt, Guyana, which was recently admitted to membership of EITI, will be much more comfortable at EITI meetings when the question of contract disclosure is being discussed. In fact, Guyana will be joining a group of eleven countries which discloses its contracts despite having no statutory obligation to do so.
Ram said that what is more heartening is that only two of the eleven – the USA and the UK— are western countries; two are Eastern European countries, four are from Africa, one from South America, one from Asia and one from Eurasia. Three African countries – Central African Republic, Côte d’Ivoire and Tanzania – which have a legal obligation to disclose, fail to do so. There are twenty countries which have no legal obligation to disclose and which do not disclose. Among these are Norway, Germany and Trinidad and Tobago. In total, of the 51 countries covered by the review, 29, that is well over half, disclose at least some of these agreements, while several more are taking concrete steps to join their ranks.
Ram noted that there were an additional ten governments not selected for study, but which are also disclosing, bringing the global figure to an impressive 39 countries. While Guyana’s interest in extractive industry (EI) disclosures has been piqued by petroleum contracts, the review covered not only petroleum countries but mining companies as well.
The review, according to Ram, opined that the decision to disclose contracts or licences demonstrates that Governments and companies are increasingly finding that the benefits of contract transparency outweigh restrictive confidentiality concerns surrounding commercial sensitivity, trade secrets or intellectual property.
Ram said that the review also found that the number of countries that have passed laws requiring contract disclosure has also increased.
Ram said that a chronological analysis of the dates of the enactment of law or the adoption of policies requiring disclosure done by Hubert and Pitman showed that since 2008, the number of countries with laws/policies has more than tripled.
Ram said that those statistics confound the advice of the legal experts who told Minister Trotman that Guyana could not disclose its contracts. “While my support for EITI is not unqualified, it does appear that the organization deserves credit for this trend.”
Since 2013, the EITI Standard has included a provision on contracts that encourages public disclosure of contracts (section 2.4). In the period since that change, nine new EITI countries have released contracts, and nine have enacted laws that require contract disclosure.
Ram said that credit is also due to international bodies such as Amnesty International, which highlighted the importance of transparency in combating corruption risks related to the Chad-Cameroon and Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipelines. Ram said that the IMF has also played its part in its widely circulated Guide on Resource Revenue Transparency which advocated for disclosure and transparency.
Ram also noted that in 2011, the International Bar Association released a model mining development agreement that included a provision noting that contracts produced using the model should become public documents.
While in 2012, the World Bank Group’s private sector lending arm – added a financing requirement that IFC-backed oil, gas and mining projects disclose the “principal contract with government that sets out the key terms and conditions under which a resource will be exploited.”
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