I have noted the recent news stories on the application for an oil block made by ABR Oil and Gas Exploration (“ABR O&G”). One of the names listed among the principals of ABR is “Osafa” George (a misspelling of my name, Asafa) with a 25% ownership stake in the company. While I cannot address the issue on behalf of all the principals of ABR O&G, as one of the stakeholders, the publication of this information presents for me a welcome opportunity to address both the central issue and larger context surrounding it.
ABR O&G is a start-up company established by a few members of the African Business Roundtable who have significant experience in oil and gas, including previously drilling for oil in Guyana, extensive local business track records of investing in the economic and social development of Guyana, and international economic development expertise.
Let me share a few thoughts that I hope will stimulate conversation about economic development opportunities and make the ABR O&G more transparent to the general public:
No Support for Corruption
At the time of the formation of ABR O&G and proposal to the government, I do not believe that anyone in the group had influence over the government’s decision on contract awards. If any of the principals have subsequently taken up a role and would have influence over the government contract awards, it is quite easy for the other shareholders to remove the conflicted shareholder. To date, ABR O&G has NOT been awarded anything by the government, and has no economic value.
Inclusion and diversity were important considerations and part of our proposal to the government. The principals reached out to prominent Guyanese businesses of all races and ethnicity to join the effort. We were careful in ensuring that there was representation from each of the six racial groups if we were awarded a block. I will respect their right to confidentiality, but hope that some of those who were approached or agreed to participate, will come forward to confirm that there was an arrangement to unite on this important initiative. This is an important fact that I hope can spark the discussion on how we dismantle discrimination and inequality in Guyanese society.
Empowerment for Ordinary Guyanese
Our proposal to the government was accompanied by a commitment to empowerment for the benefit of Guyanese people who would otherwise have no access to participate in the contract award opportunity. Therefore, a significant portion of the company’s shares were intended to be distributed to Ordinary Guyanese who would be able to own these empowerment shares and directly benefit from the economic opportunities. Right now, Ordinary Guyanese have never been offered this type of opportunity.
I am very comfortable with the government and press making public the names of all principals of companies that are awarded a government contract. While there is no requirement, I am also comfortable with the government and press having the names for all applicants that are pending an award of a government contract if the goal is to bring more accountability and equitable distributions to the entire contract award process. Transparency will strengthen Guyana and our key institutions and will help to eliminate corruption or even the perception of corruption.
We Guyanese will be here long after all the government contracts are awarded and the last drop of natural resources is sold. We cannot solely rely upon international firms and auctioning of our natural resources to foreign companies to somehow restructure our local economy, strengthen political institutions and improve social norms.
I believe that Guyana can pursue economic development policies that maximize the benefit of our natural resources, develop the local business infrastructure to create more jobs, and create a rising tide of opportunity that is inclusive of all Guyanese. In order to accomplish these initiatives, we have to make sure the economic opportunities are well distributed amongst local Guyanese businesses of all races and ethnicities, and constantly find ways to encourage those businesses to keep re-investing in Guyana.
If I am so blessed to benefit from the rising tide of opportunities in Guyana that God has bestowed upon us all, I pledge to reinvest in Guyana to make sure that the economic empowerment reaches all our Guyanese citizens. We Guyanese will choose our own future – Guyana is we own!
Selwin Asafa George
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