Kaieteur News has exposed enough information to establish a basis for an impartial and independent investigation into the award of oil blocks in the Guyana Basin. The public is entitled to know the basis upon which all blocks were awarded, the transparency of the process, and the bona fides of the companies to whom these blocks were awarded.
An investigation will clear all lingering doubts about the award of the blocks. But it would be unwise for the State Asset Recovery Agency (SARA) to be asked to undertake such an investigation.
The State Asset Recovery Agency is not the fit and proper agency to do so. In my opinion, the unit is highly politicised, it is manned by persons who have been accused of having axes to grind, and the units legality is being challenged in the Courts.
SARA is headed by a former co-leader of the Working People’s Alliance. One of the persons connected with the agency is a strident critic of the PPPC. Another one has been involved in exchanges in the media with the Leader of the Opposition. Against this background, it will be hard for any investigation launched by SARA to overcome the concerns that it has the potential to be infected with bias.
Another agency, the Special Organized Crime Unit (SOCU) has faced allegations of being used for a witch hunt. That unit has also been a palpable failure and is now the subject of an audit of its operations following accusations of lack of accountability.
SARA, like SOCU, faces a crisis of credibility. Its recovery of stolen or misappropriated state assets is far from stellar. It has had limited success thus far. The agency is funded by taxpayers, who would no doubt wish to see value for their money. SARA is at risk of becoming a bureaucratic creature, absorbing public funds with little returns to show.
SARA’s creation was based on a false theory – the notion of the criminalized state. The state of Guyana is corrupt, but no more corrupt than many other states. But the state has never and is not likely ever to be captured by criminal elements. The theory of the criminalised state, on which the existence of SARA is justified, is based on propaganda.
The principal function of the State Asset Recovery Agency is to recover property unlawfully obtained from the State. SARA is not empowered to determine whether sweetheart deals were made, whether persons had inside information – unless that information or deal would have constituted an illegal act.
There was never any need for SARA to be created to recover assets. Guyana laws and civil jurisprudence provide more than sufficient remedies for the recovery of any stolen assets. The forfeiture laws of Guyana are adequate to allow for recovery of assets. There is nothing preventing the Attorney General from instituting civil procedures to recover state assets, which were illegally acquired. As such, there is absolutely no need for SARA.
The timing of SARA’s investigation into the alleged investigation is suspect. SARA seems to have awakened from a long slumber. It has had four years to determine the owners of these oil blocks and how they were awarded, but it only now, close to elections, decided that an investigation is necessary.
SARA is being selective. It has made it clear that it will not be investigating the oil blocks awarded to Exxon Mobil. But why not? Why not investigate whether the signing bonus was below market value, and if so, what sums need to be recovered from Exxon Mobil. SARA will be seriously pressed to explain how it is that it is willing to investigate the Kaieteur Block and the Canje Block, but not the Stabroek Block.
The government should do what the PPPC did when it faced concerns over the OMAI deal twenty years ago. The PPPC commissioned an independent review of the OMAI deal.
Any investigation that SARA launches, especially with the busy bodies around it, will be tainted with allegations of partisanship. It is better for an international, independent and impartial firm to be used to investigate all oil blocks, including the one awarded to ExxonMobil.
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