By Abena Rockcliffe-Campbell
Minister of Natural Resources, Raphael Trotman, is about to make moves that will complement his stated anti-dictatorship position. Trotman is actually going to go to Cabinet and ask that it approves the reduction of powers to be vested in him as prescribed by the Petroleum Commission Bill.
Trotman announced his intention to do so recently in the National Assembly as he contributed to the Budget debates.
Trotman told the House that in 2017, both the Petroleum Commission Bill and the Local Content Policy were widely disseminated for public scrutiny and currently; the Bill is before the Select Committee while the Policy is being finalised with stakeholder feedback.
Trotman said that the Government of Guyana chose to pause the implementation of the Petroleum Commission Bill so that it can receive all “fit and proper proposals that may be out there.”
He said, “This moment will not come again and how we prepare to manage this resource, in particular, will determine the long-term future of the country so I will recommend to Cabinet that the format is changed from the standard semi-autonomous one to make the Commission more independent and inclusive so that it can enjoy national support.”
The opinions that too much power is to be vested in the Minister of Natural Resources are widespread.
Stakeholders have been saying the Petroleum Commission Bill, now before a parliamentary select committee, should be fine-tuned to make way for a Board of Directors with broader powers to eliminate concerns about possible ministerial micro-management.
With some 51 clauses, the Bill seeks to provide the framework for the monitoring and regulation of efficient, safe, effective and environmentally responsible exploration, development and production of the resource in Guyana through the setting up of a Petroleum Commission.
The Bill currently says that the Minister is to appoint the Board of the Petroleum Commission and is empowered to act as the Board in the absence of an active board. The Board will control the commission and the commission will have the main say in the oil sector.
Therefore, in giving the Minister the power to act as the board, the Bill is giving the Minister powers to singly control the sector.
When it was being debated, before being sent to the Special Select Committee, the opposition argued that it vests too much power in the Minister of Natural Resources, and should be adjusted to reflect an apolitical stance of the sector.
“When we examine Section Eight which deals with the Power of the Minister to give directions to the Commission, it is clear that the Commission will hardly be able to work without the direction and control of the Minister. According to Section Eight, the Minister is not only allowed to provide policy guidance, but also give direction to the Commission regarding, size of the establishment, the employment of staff and the terms and conditions of employment, the provision of equipment and use of funds, reorganisation or such works of development as to involve a substantial outlay on capital account, training, education and research, the disposal of capital assets; the application of the proceeds of such disposals,” PPP/C MP Irfaan Ali argued at the time.
“Thus, the Minister is literally empowered to dictate inter alia, how many persons an independent Commission should employ, what should be the terms and conditions of employment for the staff of the Commission, how an independent Commission should use its funds, etcetera.
Based on our review of similar legislation in other countries, we were unable to locate one that bestows comparable powers to the Minister. Indeed, based on our review, we found that the only power the Minister is granted in other countries is the power to provide policy guidance,” he added.
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Caption: Minister of Natural Resources, Raphael Trotman
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