The coalition administration has spoken extensively about the need to have transparency and accountability in the oil and gas sector. Yet, there is no evidence to date that mechanisms are in place to stymie corruption and wastage of the oil wealth to come.
This perspective was proffered yesterday by Executive Member of the Working People’s Alliance (WPA), Dr. David Hinds.
In an interview with Kaieteur News, Dr. Hinds said, “I don’t see any evidence that they are putting mechanisms in place to deal with corruption and if they are, they are not being transparent about it.
“I suppose therefore that the newly established Energy Department will address this but more needs to be done. There has not been any updated legislation on petroleum or no new legislation to ensure that corruption is kept at bay.”
“Now, the National Assembly is an important oversight body. There is talk that the House will have some powers regarding examining this sector but there is no serious movement on this front.
“There is no training for Parliamentarians; the House is not even getting a boost in the area of technical officers in petroleum to guide our policy makers…What are we really doing?”
Dr. Hinds said that civil society has made known its frustrations about several aspects of the lopsided ExxonMobil-Guyana contract. He stressed however there needs to be a more structured approach for civil society to have an input in the key decisions to be made in the industry. In the absence of this, Dr. Hinds said that Guyanese are witnessing the over-centralization of power.
Dr. Hinds said, “If you look at the Government’s Green paper on the Sovereign Wealth Fund, you see that there is a huge role for decision making by the Finance Minister and his Ministry. Where is the room for effective and meaningful decision making by independent actors?”
The political commentator said that even the way the government deals with the Opposition is representative of the concept of “over-centralization of power and decision making.”
He said that consultations with this body are vital, but it must not appear as though the government is simply “going through the motions.” He said that currently, it appears that the government makes decisions and then informs the Opposition of what it is going to do. Dr. Hinds said that this cannot continue.
CIVIL SOCIETY MATTERS
At the heart and soul of any well-functioning democracy is civil society; a body of individuals and organizations which defend the rights of the citizenry while ensuring checks and balances against the excessive of the State are always in place.
As the nation inches closer to oil production, the role of civil society becomes even more important. And whether the discussions in the next five, 10 or 15 years will be centered on the need for more fiscal reforms or how to address an oil spill, the voice of civil society must be heard.
This was essentially the message of Attorney-at-Law and 14th Premier of Alberta, Canada, Alison Redford. For this former politician, it is important for all to understand the power of trust among stakeholders; the significance of civil society’s input and the partnership that is needed among government officials, persons in the industry and the citizenry.
The lawyer said, “Regardless of whether citizens understand the industry, they will have opinions about how it should be developed. So it is very important for Government, industry and civil society to be in the discussion and for the government and industry to be prepared to educate the communities.
“But at the end of the day, this national resource can be developed for the betterment of the nation in partnership with civil society.”
The lawyer added that without participation; without trust between government, civil society and the industry, it is going to be very hard to move ahead with the development of the oil sector.
Redford said, “One of the things we cannot ignore is the way the resources come out of the ground and the way in which they are used to develop the country. This will have to be a dialogue between politicians, policy leaders, and civil society and communities.
“Be it the Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF) or mitigating environmental problems, these are all issues where dialogue must be something where civil society must have a voice.”
“At the end of the day, it is civil society’s opinion that will determine whether or not the country and government of any political strength, is actually going to be able to develop that resource. As we have this conversation, and you continue to have it for the next 25, 50 or 100 several years, the one strategy that will not work is (one that says) it doesn’t matter if civil society doesn’t understand.
“It is true, oil and gas matters and environmental matters are very technical. But at the end of the day, whatever civil society does not understand is what they would want to talk about. And that is how they would participate in the conversation.”
Redford also said it is important for government and the industry stakeholders to have a strong partnership to develop the resource.
Based on her extensive knowledge of the sector, the lawyer said that industry stakeholders would also indicate that it is important for the government to understand that it needs to set incentives, local content laws, environmental management plans etc., that will allow them to develop the resource for the benefit of the country.
She commented that given the role of the government as the trustee of the resource, it is important for it to demonstrate that it is managing the resource for the benefit of the people.
Based on what she has heard thus far in Guyana, the former politician said she believes that such an understanding is present.
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