Concerned Guyanese gathered yesterday at the Pegasus Hotel to engage in a discussion about the proposed Natural Resource Fund which will hold Guyana’s petroleum revenue.
The event which was organized by the Guyana Manufacturing and Services Association (GMSA) saw a presentation on the Government’s Green Paper for the Fund. This was delivered by the Finance Ministry’s Budget Director, Sonia Roopnauth.
There were also remarks by four panelists. They included Trade Unionist, Lincoln Lewis; Private Sector Member, Ramesh Persaud, and Chartered Accountant, Christopher Ram.
But the viewpoints and questions which were subsequently raised by attendees revealed that were the least bit interested in the “nitty-gritty” of this subject matter.
In many instances, some members of the panel such as Trade Unionist, Lincoln Lewis, and even audience members used the forum to ventilate their concerns about other crucial oil and gas matters.
Many Guyanese wanted to know how the oil money would be distributed to the ordinary man, be it through direct cash transfers or otherwise; how indigenous businesses would be protected from a takeover of the industry by foreign companies; and what the government’s plan is in terms of using a portion of the oil money to develop and improve the competiveness of other sectors such as rice.
Those who did raise concerns about Fund made it clear that they were not pleased with the heavy hand government agencies, particularly the Finance Ministry, will have in relation to management. There were also concerns about the process that will be used to appoint crucial external members to supervise the Fund such as the Senior Investment Advisor and Analyst for the Government.
During his presentation, Chartered Accountant and Oil and Gas Academic Ram made it clear from the outset that those in attendance were engaging in a discussion against the background of inadequate information.
He emphasized that there are many things, which the citizenry does not know about the ExxonMobil contract. He said that the government is still to make public, ExxonMobil’s production licence and the Bridging Deed.
He also criticized the government for failing to introduce a depletion policy or a finalized local content policy.
The Chartered Accountant said, too, that not a single piece of legislation has been crafted for the oil sector since this government has come into office.
LOVELY WORDS & NO STRUCTURE
Turning his attention to the Natural Resource Fund, Ram said, “it is lovely to say we have one but where is the structure to ensure confidence in it?”
He added, “What the Finance Ministry has to say or to prove to us that it will not do what it did with all the other funds that have been lying around the place. We know what happened under the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) and what is happening with the APNU+AFC administration. The political control of this Fund won’t work. We have to decide on a proper governance structure.”
Ram said that the government’s Green Paper pays some lip service to the Dutch disease phenomenon but says nothing about how this will be prevented. In fact, he opined that the economy is already suffering from it.
In the end, Ram, like many others, called for there to be serious consultations on all oil and gas issues and not PR propaganda.
The Attorney-at-law concluded, “I am not sure what this consultation process is…But I want to see government say how it intends to deal with consultations. Is it open to superior proposals or it will go ahead with its own?
“There is no monopoly of wisdom by any political party or any class. Let us all as Guyanese put our heads together on this matter.”
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