By Kiana Wilburg
While the Government of Trinidad and Tobago respects the “sanctity” of contracts, it does not subscribe to the notion that contracts are set in stone.
This is especially so when those agreements are in favour of the oil company.
Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Dr. Keith Rowley made this very point at an Energy Conference held in his country earlier this year.
And he repeated and expounded on them yesterday in the presence of President David Granger.
He was at the time, answering questions from Kaieteur News at the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on Energy with Guyana.
Asked to share how his country is going about the renegotiation of oil contracts and how Guyana might learn from this, the TT Prime Minister said that while he would not want to give “public advice” to his colleague, President Granger, it is a fact that Trinidad has been in the oil business for ages. He said that much of what Trinidad has engaged in is what Guyana will soon have to do.
“But whatever our experience has been, it would do Guyana well to know what that experience is, even if it is not taken as advice,” the Prime Minister said.
Getting to the crux of the matter, Dr. Rowley said, “We have respected the sanctity of contracts while not accepting that contracts are set in stone. Contracts are engagements made between two parties and when you make contracts, if there is goodwill between the participants, and if the intention is for both participants to benefit from the nature of the contract, we see the possibility and the opportunity for the contracts being revisited so as to maintain the balance of the elements of the contract.”
The TT Prime Minister said that this is the basis on which his government has approached oil companies in its borders on the renegotiating of contracts.
“As I speak to you now, we are at the negotiation table, having got their acknowledgement that the contract could be looked at…Of course, both sides (are) seeking to maintain the balance that the contracts ought to have and we do this by renegotiations…”
The TT Prime Minister added, “Sometimes in negotiations, you have to point out the shortcomings of others and they might point out shortcomings on your part. (But) we have no fear in raising our dissatisfaction with the performance of certain contracts…”
The Prime Minister said that petroleum is an international business and cautioned that when one engages in it, contracts are supposed to be made to encourage and continue participation. He said, too, that contracts are supposed to be drafted in a manner that takes into account, the fact that the market will change over time.
“I wouldn’t attempt to criticize what kind of contracts you might have entered into, but contracts reflect time, place and circumstances. What I would say to Guyana is to understand where you are at, and the time and place, and understand that you have a friend in Trinidad and Tobago which has years of experience in (the industry) which may be of benefit to you. We have people and companies which have been doing this for a number of years.”
Dr. Rowley said he can only see benefits for both countries if there is collaboration in the industry.
CALL FOR RENEGOTIATION HERE
Local commentators have long expressed concern over the deal Guyana signed with ExxonMobil, especially when it is compared with other agreements Exxon signed onto with other nations such as Ghana.
The Ghanaian contract for example, has an entire section dedicated to procurement laws, which ExxonMobil must follow at all times. Those provisions are in place to ensure that a significant number of the local companies are able to benefit from the nation’s oil sector. Guyana’s contract on the other hand mentions nothing about procurement laws.
Additionally, if Government so desires, it would be able to tap into the expertise of an international group which helps countries in the successful renegotiation of contracts on a pro bono basis. The group is called, the International Senior Lawyers Project (ISLP).
Over the past 17 years, with support from law firms, foundations and government agencies, ISLP has mobilized hundreds of experienced lawyers to provide more than $100 million worth of pro bono legal assistance in support of just, accountable and inclusive development in more than 80 countries.
The Project was successful in helping Liberia renegotiate its contracts with Arcelor Mittal S.A., a German-based steel manufacturing company and American company Firestone Tire and Rubber.
The group has also helped other countries across the world in the renegotiation of oil contracts.
ISLP is also no stranger to Guyana as it has provided support to the Attorney General’s Office for the review of Guyana’s Cyber Crime Bill and Electronic Transactions Bill.
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