By Gary Eleazar
‘First Oil’ in Guyana, comes at a time of intensified political polarisation, fostered by the upcoming General and Regional Elections, and this rules out political bi-partisanship at the level of political actors.
As such, Civil Society members have begun to ramp up calls for an interim mechanism or initiative to oversee the decision-making process with respect to Guyana’s oil and gas industry.
This, since the intended safeguards engendered in the Public Accountability and Oversight Committee (PAOC) under the Natural Resources Fund (NRF) Act, cannot be fully achieved prior to elections.
‘First Oil’ is due in a matter of days, while General Elections is slated for March 2, 2020, and according to civil society members, the prevailing circumstances dictate the urgent need to find a formula which will encourage civic and business as well as political energies “to both preserve the progressive intentions of the NRF Act.”
The civil society organizations that have begun consolidating their efforts include Policy Forum Guyana (PFG), the Amerindian Peoples’ Association (APA), the East Coast Clean-Up Committees (ECD), the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA), the Guyana Organization of Indigenous Peoples (GOIP), Red Thread and Transparency Institute Guyana Inc. (TIGI).
In a joint statement yesterday, the grouping said “any attempt to implement the legal provisions of the Act in their current form with respect to the PAOC, risks alienation of a significant sector of the business, civic and political sectors.”
It was pointed out that at a recent meeting, senior members of the Ministry were in favour of a proposal that an interim arrangement would be superior to having nothing in place.
“We understand this to mean the Act could be viewed as aspirational, rather than be legally binding and approached flexibly in the interim period…This approach in the opinion of Policy Forum Guyana is realistic and should be pursued.”
It was noted that the difficulty in creating a successful interim public interest and oversight mechanism in an electoral atmosphere should not be underestimated.
The group suggests, “that same electoral context provides space to seek public endorsements of a national civic consensus from contending parties.”
It was pointed out that “recognizing the historical and current price being paid for the failure of bi-partisan politics in the past, particular care must be paid to developing collective forms of decision-making in both the interim and substantive mechanisms.”
According to the grouping, the state of unreadiness for the advent of ‘first oil’ in Guyana in both technical and political terms is a matter of major concern.
It was observed that the Ministry of Finance is to be credited for making a Sovereign Wealth Fund the centrepiece of its fiscal structure with respect to management of oil revenues, accompanied by the PAOC to monitor its performance.
According to the civil society bodies however, “both elements are generally sound, but politically wanting.”
Critically too, the group reminded that Parliamentary approval of the NRF Act took place without the presence of the opposition, doing little for bi-partisanship and even less for a sense of urgency around ‘first oil’.
Moreover, “the proposed PAOC process reflects excessive control on the part of the Ministry, thereby weakening interest from significant sectors of civil society.”
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