President Irfaan Ali has put on hold the approval of the Payara off-shore oil project until a full review of it is undertaken by technical experts.
This decision represents a victory for all Guyana but particularly for this newspaper which has been the singular voice demanding that the oil agreements which were signed by the APNU+AFC be re-examined.
Kaieteur News and particularly its publisher, Glenn Lall, has been the only voice which has consistently and insistently been calling for a renegotiation of these contracts. Many others have disagreed with the terms of the contract, but they have grown to accept this as a done deal.
Lall, however, never became a victim of such fatalism. He was so appalled by the oil agreement that he decided that he could not sit quietly, like the others, and accept the crumbs which Guyana got in return for its vast petroleum resources.
Lall and his newspaper have been the only ones which have consistently called for a better deal for Guyana. There has hardly been a day when this newspaper has not been highlighting some aspect of the oil agreement or advocating for its renegotiation.
Lall led from the front. He is not a backbencher. He stands up for what he believes because he feels that if in life you do not stand up for something, you will fall for anything.
Lall’s tenacity has paid dividends. His efforts have not been in vain. His strong and sterling advocacy has led to a decision which, at the minimum, allows for Guyana to lay the foundation for securing better terms.
The Payara project has been put on hold, subject to a technical review. This review will, no doubt, inform government’s options.
There were many people, including yours truly, who had told Lall that he was wasting his time. He was told that the Guyanese people were bedazzled by the promises of oil wealth and did not realize that they were being robbed blindly by the terms of the contract.
Lall, however, felt that once a cause was right it should be pursued, and he pursued this one with his usual passion. Lall was not deterred by what many of us saw as the lack of traction of his efforts. He persisted because he dearly wants to see betterment for Guyana.
Kaieteur News, his newspaper, had provided a yeomen service to the people of this country by its non-stop efforts to expose the shortcomings of the oil agreements which were signed. This service also extended to looking at the experiences of other oil-producing countries and the pitfalls which they encountered in their dealings with the oil companies.
Lall sought and obtained advice from a wide range of experts. And when Kaieteur News carried this advice, it was a way of educating the public about what was right and what was wrong about the agreements which were inked by the previous administration.
ExxonMobil had managed to achieve the heist of the century when they got the APNU+AFC to grant them the most generous terms ever granted to oil companies anywhere in the world. They felt emboldened by this action.
ExxonMobil had tried to force the signing of the Payara permit by pointing to the urgency for a final investment decision (FID) at the earliest so that the projects timelines would not be affected.
President Ali who now has responsibility for the natural resource sector, however, was not going to be pressured into any hurried agreement. He has rejected the overture for a quick granting of the permit to go ahead with the project.
Instead, he has intimated that he would like to see full technical review of the Payara project. Reportedly, Canada, herself a major oil producer, has been asked to assist with this review. This is important from a cost perspective since Canada is likely to bear the cost of the technical review.
The COVID-19 pandemic is bound to throw up some technical hurdles to accessing technical assistance. Any assistance is bound to be helpful to the country in making a decision about the project.
The algorithm by which the oil companies were proceeding has been altered. There is a new sheriff in town and he has decided to do the right thing and summoned an investigation into the project before any permit is approved.
Tuesday was a red-letter day for the country. It is proof that the new President is not intimidated or smitten by the power and influence of the oil multi¬nationals. He has decided to take action to ensure that before he acts, he is properly advised.
When that advice comes, the people who genuinely have the interest of the country at heart must not be afraid to speak out. For sure, one man, Lall, will be paying keen attention to ensure that wool is not pulled over the people’s eyes.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.)
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