Jan 10, 2021 News
By Kiana Wilburg
Kaieteur News – By May 2020, I was on my fourth reading of Crude Intentions by Alexandra Gillies, one of the world’s most respected experts on oil sector corruption. In that book, Gillies offers readers a deep, yet dark cinematic view of how countries have failed with the management of their oil revenues. In Chapter Seven, Gillies who is also an advisor at the Natural Resources Governance Institute (NRGI), alludes in a most eloquent fashion, how the oil sector can find itself caught at the “Boulevard of Death.”
In this regard, she noted that New Yorkers used to refer to the Queens Boulevard, as the “Boulevard of Death”. The horrid nickname was earned from the alarming rate at which pedestrians were killed or injured at the thoroughfare. The state of affairs was one that obviously called for the US authorities to put various measures in place such as traffic lights to address the rising road carnage. Importantly, Gillies stressed that traffic lights and other individual measures in themselves were not the cure-all or the silver bullet, but the full suite of measures that were implemented most certainly reduced the number deaths and injuries.
Every time I read this chapter, I am immediately transported to Guyana’s situation with the oil resources which joins timber, gold, bauxite, and rice, at the metaphoric boulevard of death. For years, the media outlets have reported on how the revenue earned from these resources are injured by various acts of corruption that are left unchecked by weak regulatory institutions and poorly paid public servants who are expected to be the protectors of the resources. Add the frail legislative and regulatory framework to the equation, and the corruption before you balloon, rot and stink more and more on an annual basis. These are what nine-plus billion barrels of oil equivalent resources have been born into and remain caught in. Of course, Guyana has the opportunity now before it is too late; to ensure the oil resources are protected from the vile things we have seen happen with our other traditional sectors. But is the current administration moving fast enough to ensure that the casualties of failing to act are not high?
The PPP/C Government assumed office by surfing on the tides of commentary that it knows what needs to be done to protect the oil sector, that the APNU+AFC was wasting precious time to get us prepared, and that it would manage the sector in the interest of the people. But has it done enough to show that it too will not be prone to sleeping at the wheel and/or treating ExxonMobil like a king in a sovereign nation?
I am inclined to agree with the comments of several local stakeholders, one being Chartered Accountant and Attorney-at-Law, Christopher Ram, that the People’s Progressive Party Civic administration can no longer use as excuses, the need to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic or the fact that it had a late start with the preparation and passage of an emergency budget for failing to take sufficient action to protect the oil and gas sector. Let me be clear that no one expects the party to have all the fundamentals in place. But at the very least, Guyanese deserve to see action, and I mean fast action on this front. Political hymns about building capacity and claims that work is being done to strengthen the sector are no longer enough. As the great Audrey Hepburn sang in the 1964 musical classic, My Fair Lady, “…Don’t talk of love lasting through time… Sing me no song! Read me no rhyme! Show me!”
At the very least, the PPP should have initiated a review of Guyana’s outdated oil laws and state who would be in charge of this process and what laws would be looked at first, explain what systems would be put in place to ensure transparent spending and reporting on the oil money, put systems in place for the voluntary and timely publication of profit oil lifts as well as associated sale agreements, and start a national discussion on how Guyanese want to see the oil resources developed.
During a recent interview on Kaieteur Radio, Attorney General, Anil Nandlall proudly disclosed that he has begun the process of reviewing the legal instruments so as to close the loopholes which would allow for election officers to engage in acts that could hurt the integrity of the electoral process. While it is commendable that the government is pursing those actions that would ensure free and fair elections four years from now, when will the same priority be given to the oil laws? When will the same priority be given to building an army of auditors and regulators for the sector? What exactly are we waiting on?
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