By Abena Rockcliffe–Campbell
“In essence, you have taken CI out of the domain of being a watchdog of any issue in Guyana with oil spills, environmental problems, etc. CI can no longer be a credible factor in this game and I am saying that Exxon being a reputable company, being a strong company and a powerful company must know this.”- Chairman of Parliamentary Sectoral Committee on Natural Resources
“There can hardly be any justification for entities like Iwokrama and Conservation International to take money from the oil companies. No wonder that they have been so silent on the flawed Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) study which contained some highly suspect information and conclusions,” said Christopher Ram.
Ram, an attorney at law, chartered accountant and strong advocate for transparency in the oil sector, said this in the wake of a recent announcement that ExxonMobil Foundation has given Conservation International and the University of Guyana US$10M.
But he is not the only one worried about that recent development.
Yesterday, the donation was a focal point of discussions between ExxonMobil and Members of Parliament representing both government and opposition.
This was as ExxonMobil’s Country Manager Rod Henson appeared before the Parliament Sectoral Committee for Natural Resources.
That Committee is chaired by People’s Progressive Party’s Odinga Lumumba.
Initially, Lumumba asked Henson if ExxonMobil consulted with the Government of Guyana before making the donation to Conservation International. “Did the government approve this?”
Henson responded in the negative. He said, “This is an ExxonMobil Foundation initiative. It was neither directed nor approved by the government. This is a good thing. I am not aware that Conservation International has a sole role and a unique role as a watchdog.”
Henson also sought to highlight that Conservation International is not the only beneficiary of the sum—University of Guyana is in on it too. “It’s a partnership,” he said.
But at that point, Henson’s response was not good enough for Lumumba, so he probed further. “You are saying to us today that you know that Conservation International is seen around the world as a watchdog of the environment. You don’t see this as a conflict in partnering with the watchdog? In essence, you have taken CI out of the domain of being a watchdog of any issue in Guyana with oil spills, environmental problems, etc. CI can no longer be a credible factor in this game and I am saying that Exxon being a reputable company, being a strong company and a powerful company must know this,” he said.
But Henson vehemently sought to dismantle inferences that ExxonMobil essentially bought out Conservation International.
He said, “Chair, I think Conservation International would disagree with you and I disagree with you respectfully, and I don’t think this in any way impedes Conservation International’s other roles in the country. I will say that we made the government aware that we are proceeding down this path but this is an ExxonMobil initiative.”
Further, Henson said that ExxonMobil is always cognizant of its responsibility to stay “above board.”
Less than a week ago, ExxonMobil Foundation, the philanthropic arm of ExxonMobil, earlier announced that it would contribute US$10 million to a new collaboration with Conservation International and the University of Guyana to train Guyanese for sustainable job opportunities and to expand community-supported conservation.
The Foundation said the investment is also intended to support Guyana’s Green State Development Plan, the country’s 15-year development plan that aims, among other things, to diversify Guyana’s economy and balance economic growth with the sustainable management and conservation of the country’s ecosystems.
A statement from the company explained that the ExxonMobil Foundation will provide the investment over five years.
While Guyana, a country without a national oil spill response plan, faces serious environmental risks with the coming of oil production, Conservation International is yet to join the conversation.
In fact, Annette Arjoon of the Guyana Marine Conservation Society (GMCS) is the lone environmentalist that has been speaking out on the risks involved in oil production and calling for mitigation measures to be put in place pronto.
Even the opposition, which is now speaking out about Conservation International’s possible buyout, has had little to say about the environmental hazards that Guyana face.
Guyanese you are being prostituted by your politicians!
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