Prominent Attorney at Law, Nigel Hughes, told those who gathered at the recent oil and gas summit that the best foundation for the Petroleum Commission is for it to be staffed with qualified, professional independent thinkers.
Providing answers to a question that was posed in this regard, Hughes said, “The Commission should be filled with appropriate people. The second you start to create criteria that suggests it might be political we begin to lose purpose.”
Hughes said that Guyana should strive to have a commission of appropriately qualified people that enjoys the confidence of the entire country; “and not a confidence based on politics but based on capacity and integrity.”
The lawyer, who is also a Director of the Guyana Oil and Gas Association (GOGA), said that Guyana needs the regulatory structure and statutory framework that allows the appointment of people for a period of time so as to avoid removal of those who may rub politicians the wrong way.
Hughes said, “They should not have the power to change people willy nilly, purely because this ` is a body that requires the best skills available insulated from the political class. So if we draft the appropriate laws to protect the political class from having too much influence then we are ahead of the game.”
Since last December, Minister of Natural Resources, Raphael Trotman, is about to make moves that will complement his stated anti-dictatorship position. Trotman said that he was 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. But nothing happened since.
Trotman had 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 finalized with stakeholder feedback.
Trotman said that the Government 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 a 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, reorganization 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.
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