The State Assets Recovery Agency (SARA) is currently investigating the awards of the Kaieteur and Canje blocks, by former President Donald Ramotar, to virtual unknowns, made just days before the May 2015 election. Director General of the Ministry of the Presidency Joseph Harmon was keen to note, during yesterday’s post-Cabinet press briefing, that government will take all necessary action to correct wrongdoing if such is found.
But contentions have also been raised about the Production Sharing Agreement with ExxonMobil on the Stabroek concession. That PSA was signed on June 14, 1999 by former President Janet Jagan.
During the press briefing, Kaieteur News brought all of these issues to Director General Harmon’s attention, asking whether they were sufficient to warrant an investigation into the Stabroek concession. He said that government would only act on the investigations’ findings by SARA, and that the contentions raised were not enough to warrant any action.
The Transparency Institute Guyana Initiative (TIGI) is the latest party to criticise what it calls illegalities in the Stabroek concession. A contention by TIGI is that the PSA Government signed with Exxon’s subsidiary, Esso Exploration and Production Guyana Limited (EEPGL) for the concession, is “illegal, irretrievably flawed” and “either the result of grand corruption or grand incompetence.”
TIGI stated that the PSA is in contravention with the Constitution and the Procurement Act. The Institute also complained about the lack of ring-fencing provisions in the contract. It stated unequivocally that a document, which is “in breach of international practice as well as local laws” would be “invalid, void and of no effect.”
If that wasn’t bad enough, the concession to the American multinational means it controls approximately 600 blocks. This is 10 times more than what the law stipulates.
Asked about this during a press conference on Thursday, Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo had said that the relinquishment provision, as it is referred to in the PSA, was supposed to kick in when Natural Resources Minister, Raphael Trotman revised the terms in 2016 with ExxonMobil. He said that Trotman has no justification for not ensuring that the excess blocks were relinquished.
All of these issues, Harmon was reminded of at the press briefing. It was also brought to the Director General’s attention that Trinidad and Tobago was successful in renegotiating its agreement with the shareholders of Atlantic LNG, a liquefied natural gas producer operating in that country. Prime Minister Keith Rowley had said that he advocated for the renegotiation because he wanted the country’s people to get “more than crumbs that fall off the table”.
Harmon was also reminded that Ghana’s President, Nana Akufo-Addo, who recently visited Guyana and whose country will be providing technical support for Guyana’s fledgling oil sector, also indicated his willingness to renegotiate oil contracts for his country, if it is necessary.
He responded, “First of all, we learn about these reports from the newspapers. We have not had a report from SARA with respect to the nature and extent of their investigation.”
If SARA finds illegality, he said, “Government will be prepared to throw its weight behind the agency to ensure that we have an outcome that is in the interest of the people of Guyana. Of course, it has to be based on evidence which comes before us.”
It was then pointed out to him that SARA is not investigating the Stabroek concession.
In response, Harmon repeated that government will only act on what SARA says.
“We are not saying whether this is right or that is wrong,” he said.
“This is information that is in the newspapers. We will be guided by evidence which is produced by SARA or any other law enforcement agency in Guyana that speaks to wrongdoing, illegality, and that will determine in our view, the situation which amounts to a changed circumstance.”
According to Harmon, an investigation is what is required to inquire about the alleged illegality of the Stabroek concession. But SARA’s Special Assistant Eric Phillips asserted last week that there is no investigation into that concession.
Even in this regard, Harmon was asked how government would treat with the myriad contentions that the Stabroek concession is illegal, if it will not initiate an investigation. He did not answer.
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