By Kiana Wilburg
The controversial Global Witness Report titled “Signed Away” makes several disturbing pronouncements on the negotiations that obtained for the Stabroek Block deal between Natural Resources Minister, Raphael Trotman and ExxonMobil.
One of the most damning of the conclusions is that Minister Trotman presented Exxon with feeble negotiation terms and ignored expert advice that more financial information was needed before he signed the licence.
During an exclusive interview on Kaieteur Radio’s show, Guyana’s Oil and You, Associate Fellow of Chatham House, Dr. Valerie Marcel, said that the Trotman should have heeded the foregoing advice that was provided to him by experts.
Dr. Marcel said, “I think it would have been better for him and for Guyana to heed that advice because it was good advice. I don’t know why he didn’t but that is something the government set in motion last summer, an investigation into all the handling of that process and that just came out a week and a half ago. I would be keen to read and better understand what happened.”
The report Dr. Marcel was referring to was done by an international law firm called Clyde and Co. It was commissioned by Cabinet last year. Kaieteur News reported recently that the report unambiguously states that the negotiation of improved terms for Guyana in the 2016 agreement with Exxon was not a priority for the Government of Guyana.
Apart from stating her position on the Trotman conclusion, the Chatham House Associate was keen to note that the Global Witness report was valuable in pointing out that Exxon used aggressive tactics during negotiations with a government that was new to the sector.
The foregoing aside, Dr. Marcel said that there were a number of other issues in the report which she simply could not agree with.
The respected expert in the petroleum industry said she took issue with the fact that Global Witness seemed to have rushed the production and publication of “Signed Away,” since many of its points on issues of possible corruption, conflict of interest and the abuse of power, were not conclusive.
In relation to Global Witness’ point that on the side of Exxon, aggressive tactics were used, Dr. Marcel said that the non-governmental organisation should have expounded on the strategy that was employed.
“So I would have recommended waiting until they compiled more, until they have a solid case to present,” Dr. Marcel said.
The Chatham House Associate Fellow, who advises governments in sub-Saharan Africa, the Eastern Mediterranean, and the Caribbean, was also critical of the time in which Global Witness released its report. If the intention is to have a positive impact on natural resource governance, then it could be really effective to publish after elections the industry expert said. Dr. Marcel believes that this would have been a more constructive approach since either party would be in a better place to layout all the weaknesses of the previous administration and say “We have got to do better. This has to be improved…”
Further to this, Dr. Marcel said she disagrees with the conclusion by Global Witness that Guyana should not drill anymore wells.
In response, Dr. Marcel said, “As long as countries like the United Kingdom, the U.S.A and Trinidad are all squeezing every little litre of oil out of its resources, it is just not fair to say that Guyana should stop.”
As for the Global Witness recommendation that the US State Department and the US Embassy in Georgetown should be mediators and bring Exxon to the table while supporting Guyana’s interest in renegotiations, Dr. Marcel said that this is not pragmatic.
The Chatham Associate Fellow said that the mandate of the US State Department and the US Embassy in Guyana are to protect US commercial interests as well as US strategic interests. “They would not be looking out for the interest of Guyana and so I thought that was a bit of a dangerous recommendation,” the industry expert concluded.
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