When I was in school, one of the books which was recommended but not required reading was Knights of the Roundtable. Even before I read the book, I knew what about a ‘knight’. The idea of ‘roundtable’ always baffled me.
Then I read the book. And it came to me that a roundtable was a sort of fraternity, gathering, a group; it could even be clan or a cabal. The Knights of the Roundtable were some of King Arthurs most trusted and loyal subjects. The roundtable is an exclusive group whose members share common interests.
Yesterday’s edition of the Kaieteur News reported that there is actually a local grouping which calls itself the Africa Business Roundtable (ABR) Oil and Gas Exploration. It was also reported that this grouping has filed an application for a deep-water oil block.
Nothing is illegal or wrong with persons forming a group in order to acquire rights to the few remaining oil blocks. But one would expect that before any oil block is awarded that it is given to persons or entities which have experience or expertise in deep-seas oil drilling and that the award is made on the basis of demonstrated financial and technical capability.
What is more important also is that any process of awarding future blocks is transparent and that no favoritism or cronyism is involved. The petroleum resources belong to all Guyanese and every Guyanese should benefit. One way for this to happen is to establish a state –owned oil company which would own the remaining oil blocks and to lease them out on terms and conditions which benefit the Guyanese people.
Kaieteur News deserves the Pulitzer Prize for journalism. Glenn Lall and his reporters have provided yeomen service to the people of this country, under the PPPC regime and now under the APNU regime.
This newspaper has been in the forefront of exposing the shoddy deal which Guyana got from Exxon Mobil. That experience must not be repeated. Guyana must ensure that it gets the best deal, including through royalties and signing bonuses.
The government must guard against possible and potential conflicts of interest. It would be a conflict of interest for someone who has an interest in an oil block to be part of any investigation concerning the award of other oil blocks.
A few weeks ago, this newspaper broke the story about the awards of the Kaieteur and Canje blocks. It has now unearthed an application – at this stage only an application – for an adjacent block, known as Block C.
The Department of Energy has placed a hold on the award of new oil blocks. But as reported yesterday, the Department had indicated that Guyana may be ready for a next licensing round of its offshore blocks, come the first quarter of 2020.
The head of the Department of Energy has indicated that the licensing round would be subject to an open bid process, that is, the new blocks would be auctioned, as has been proposed by the Leader of the Opposition.
There are however certain impediments to the processing moving forward. The first is that there is the investigation into the award of the Stabroek, Kaieteur and Canje blocks which it has been reported is being undertaken by the State Asset Recovery Authority (SARA). That investigation is likely to determine whether greater acreages will be available for future awards in addition to acreages which are voluntarily relinquished.
Secondly, there is the issue of elections. It is inadvisable for any oil blocks to be farmed out at this stage when the country is preparing for general and regional elections. It is a political convention that an incumbent regime does not enter into any major deals in the run-up to elections. Thirdly, there is the stated need for the updating of the Petroleum (Exploration and Production) laws so that any new license is granted under upgraded legislation, rather than the old archaic laws which presently exist.
Until and unless these laws are passed no new blocks should be granted. Until and unless, Guyanese are made aware of just how many other blocks are available in the Guyana Basin, no new blocks should be given out.
Until and unless, Guyana’s establishes a state –owned State Petroleum Company, no new blocks should be awarded. Guyana petroleum belongs to every citizen. Ordinary Guyanese should therefore be allowed to buy-in to the remaining oil blocks, through the establishment of a National Petroleum Company. This would allow for every citizen to have shares in this entity and to be paid dividends from the proceeds of oil exploration and production. These dividends can take the place of the proposed cash transfers floated by the Working People’s Alliance
There is therefore a need for another Roundtable, one at which every citizen will sit. And from which every citizen will benefit directly through the issuance of shares and the receipt of dividends.
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