By Kiana Wilburg
After being hammered for three months by Kaieteur News regarding its close relationship with ExxonMobil, US law firm, Hunton Andrews Kurth LLP has disclosed that it has dropped the contract it won in February to rewrite the nation’s outdated oil laws.
The law firm made this known via an email to this news agency yesterday.
In that correspondence, the law firm’s Director of Public Relations, Lisa Franz, said that the newspaper “mistakenly” reported that it is representing the Government on law reform for the petroleum sector. Franz continued, “Hunton Andrews Kurth has performed no legal work for the Government of Guyana, and informed the Government in March that it would not represent the Government in the matter that was the subject of your article.”
It should be noted that Kaieteur News was not “mistaken” on any information it provided as suggested by Franz.
In early February of this year, it was Energy Department Director, Dr. Mark Bynoe, who informed the nation that Hunton Andrews Kurth, had been selected, “with the blessings of the World Bank”, to modernize Guyana’s legal and regulatory framework for the oil industry. It was also noted by Dr. Bynoe that the company would be working closely with Guyanese firm, Cameron & Shepherd on the US$1.2M contract which was supposed to last for one year. The Energy Director had said that the firm would also provide legal advice to the Department of Energy on all matters related to the oil and gas sector.
One month later, one of the UK’s top publications, The Guardian, noted that the firm which was selected by the Energy Department enjoys a 40-year-old relationship with ExxonMobil. In that March 8 article, The Guardian reported that Hunton Andrews Kurth was contacted for a comment. Instead of informing the news agency, like it did to Kaieteur yesterday, that it would not be representing Guyana on the matter, it declined to comment citing “client confidentiality concerns.”
By mid-April, a non-governmental organization in Germany called Urgewald, wrote the World Bank demanding an investigation into the award of the contract to the US law firm. Urgewald expressed deep concern about the use of Hunton Andrews Kurth, as it noted that such an arrangement represents a conflict of interest and would only undermine Guyana’s attempt to strengthen its governance framework.
Following several articles, which struck at the heart of this matter, Dr. Bynoe held a virtual press conference to update the media fraternity on developments within the sector since the onset of the COVID-19 crisis. During that May press meeting, Kaieteur News challenged Dr. Bynoe on the use of the US firm which has such close ties to ExxonMobil. At no point did Dr. Bynoe reveal to the media that the company informed his department since March that it will drop the contract to rewrite Guyana’s laws. He did acknowledge however that there are concerns about the relationship shared between the two American power houses. He noted as well that the department is indeed concerned about issues of conflict of interest while stating that he has no qualms about such matters being addressed.Importantly, there was not a single word from Hunton Andrews Kurth in clearing the air on this matter. In fact, it said nothing about previous articles from March to May, which barely scratched the surface of the true extent of its relations with ExxonMobil.
A response was only received after Kaieteur News published an article this month on the depth of its connection with the oil giant. On June 1, last, this newspaper carried a news item featuring former Presidential Advisor, Dr. Jan Mangal, who condemned the use of the law firm, stating that it is a recipe for failure. His comments were premised on a Kaieteur News exposé, which showed that Hunton Andrews Kurth LLP was registered as an ExxonMobil lobbyist since 2016. The registration form, which this newspaper published, noted that the law firm represents ExxonMobil on a range of environmental issues. The lawyer who is listed on the document to represent the client is Charles H. Knauss. He is a partner at the firm. (See Link for registration form: https://disclosurespreview.house.gov/ld/ldxmlrelease/2016/RR/300814978.xml).
With the foregoing in mind, Dr. Mangal said it is clear the Coalition government does not want to hire the right people to protect Guyana’s interests. He said, “They are letting the very companies we need to regulate dictate the country’s business. This is a recipe for failure. And as you can see, we are failing.”
Dr. Mangal reminded that Guyana’s leaders already gave away US$55 billion of the people’s wealth with the lopsided Stabroek Block Production Sharing Agreement (PSA). By allowing an ExxonMobil lobbyist to take charge of Guyana’s legislative and regulatory framework, he opined that more value would have been given away.
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