Capacity building is fundamental to any oil and gas industry. In Guyana’s case, it will be an absolute necessity for every ministry, learning institution and even the Judiciary to adequately prepare for the road to first oil.
Since last year, there have been several efforts to build the capacity of our court system so that it can effectively handle the technicalities of a petroleum sector.
A recent manifestation in this regard was seen on Friday and Saturday at the Ramada Princess Hotel, Providence. There, the Guyana Joint Bench and Bar held an Oil and Gas Law Training Development Conference.
There were several speakers at that forum. They included Geologist and Upstream Energy Expert, Helena Innis; Attorney-at-Law and Senior State Counsel Indira Rampaul-Cheddie; and University of the West Indies Deputy Dean, Alicia Elias-Roberts.
Members of the Guyana Bar Association were eager to learn from the symposium. But this was not the case. The presentations made by Elias-Roberts were not edifying if one had access to the global developments through the internet.
Members throughout the two day conference complained that Elias-Roberts, who was recommended by the Acting Chief Justice Roxane George-Wiltshire, was of no substance. Members of the Association would have been excused if they felt they were conned out of their US$4000 which was paid to the presenter.
Instead of sticking to the theme of the conference, Roberts spoke on issues which were grounded mainly in transparency of the oil and gas industry and the need for stronger institutions.
Referencing cases such as Brazil’s Petrobas and Odebrecht deals, the saga of Ukrainian President, Viktor Yonuckvich, and Equatorial Guinea and its ill-gotten gains, Elias-Roberts noted that strengthening transparency and empowering citizens can help tackle corruption. This is a matter that was addressed extensively by local commentators.
Be that as it may, Elias-Roberts explained this type of collusion between businesses and politicians siphons off billions of dollars in revenue from natural economies.
Specifically highlighting the Brazil Petrobras deal, the UWI lecturer noted that executives from PETROBAS and some of the nation’s largest construction firms colluded to inflate the price of contracts, kicking back a portion of the ill gotten gains to lawmakers and other officials to fund political campaigns.
According to the Trinidadian lecturer strengthening transparency and accountability in Government by empowering citizens and by moving public decision closer to the people is recommended to help to tackle this type of corruption.
Elias-Roberts also pointed to improving the level of transparency by shedding light on shady deals, weak enforcement of rules and other illicit practices that undermine good governments, ethical business and society at large.
While all of the aforementioned can be seen as just, Elias-Roberts was not paid to speak on transparency and good governance in the sector.
This was a forum that was intended to deepen the conversation on how the Judiciary should handle oil and gas matters. It should have examined what are some troublesome cases that have faced the industry and how other judicial offices have dealt with them.
It should have examined how the court system should prepare itself to handle the technicalities of such an industry and where it should start. It should have examined what happens after such a seminar.
One can go on but without such “basic” questions being answered, it was clear that the Judiciary did not get its money’s worth. I dare say that it will take more than the basics of transparency and good governance in the petroleum sector to take the judiciary further than it was before the seminar.
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