Aug 03, 2021 News
By Simone Mangal-Joly
Kaieteur News – A tremendous amount of goodwill and sacrifice went into securing democratic elections in 2020 that brought the PPP/C government to power. Many ordinary citizens stood up in defense of democracy because we know right from wrong, not because we had narrow agendas or stood to benefit financially from the outcome of the elections.
Now we must stand again because our fragile democracy is as threatened as it was a year ago. It is very disappointing to see the PPP/C government, under the leadership of President Ali and Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo, a UN Champion of the Earth, systematically subverting the rule of law in promoting heavy polluting and financially risky hydrocarbon developments, many of which involve public resources and funds, and are shrouded in secrecy.
The Government has been disregarding our Constitutional rights, the Town and Country Planning Act, and the Environmental Protection Act in pushing the gas-to-shore pipeline and Wales Development Zone. It has made a big ado about the need for consultation in attempting to justify its suspension of the 2020 Rules and Procedures for the Conduct of Environmental Impact Assessments but sees no need to consult on a major shift in our national development strategy or updates to the Petroleum (Exploration and Production) Act, which it has taken before Parliament.
The Attorney General is clear that the bill contains updates to facilitate the gas-to-shore plans. As per the August 2, Stabroek News: “Amendment to Petroleum Act…”, he claims that “works contemplated in the bill are necessary for the advancement of our country’s welfare.” If they are, then this is a secret known only to a few men. There are no studies whatsoever in the public domain proving that the benefits of gas-to-shore outweigh the costs to our country now or will in future generations, nor does the PPP/C seem to think that we should see anything or have any say in what will happen to our lives and our children’s lives.
I do note that the party’s proxies have suggested in the press that the voluntary meetings carried out by ExxonMobil Guyana in connection with their preposterous “partial-project” EIA somehow count as a consultation. It is damning to suggest that a foreign company whose sole purpose for existing is to maximise shareholder financial value is an appropriate interlocuter between citizens and their government. The other reason we hear is the industrialisation plans are still in the early stages. Yet ExxonMobil has applied for an Environmental Permit, the Ministry of Natural Resources has advertised for investors, and the Attorney General is engaging Parliament to update the Petroleum Act to aid the grand USD900 million plus plot. This is bigger than anything we have ever seen before, four times the size of the failed Skeldon Estate investment undertaken by the same individuals pushing this gas-to-shore plan.
Why do PPP/C leaders believe that the resources of this country are theirs to do with as they please? Why do they believe that a small circle of men alone knows what is in our country’s welfare? Why do they believe that the safeguards in place to protect the public interest and future generations of Guyanese are theirs to sidestep? Where does the Constitution give them the power to act without citizens’ access to information and enjoyment of our rights to have a say in how our country is governed?
The Attorney General, no doubt aware that forging ahead with actions to support the gas-to-shore plan despite the ongoing violation of citizens’ rights, appears to be attempting to normalise the government’s actions by stating that: “Every oil producing country has to pass these types of legislation. Trinidad and Tobago has an entire pipeline act for example.” Do you know what else Trinidad and Tobago has? It, like many oil producing countries, has a decommission fund or legal requirement for developers to place monies in an escrow account to safely remove their oil and gas installations when they are done. Is the government proposing this in the update? Is the government proposing that profit seeking private companies pay for mandatory international insurance for industrial accidents and liabilities? Those are the kinds of things that would be in the country’s welfare. Who will be responsible for decommissioning costs and operational liabilities? Hazardous waste pollution clean-up? Our children?
And how have oil and gas helped Trinidad and Tobago’s economy? Here’s what Trinidad and Tobago is gifting its children: a domestic private sector that is stagnant and declining. A 2016 IDB study entitled, “Are Oil and Gas Smothering the Private Sector in Trinidad?” found that, based on growth and the level of Total Factor Productivity (TFP), Trinidad’s private sector performs worse than the average of Caribbean countries. It doesn’t receive much foreign investment. Gains from lowered energy costs have been offset by an overvalued dollar, due to the oil and gas sector. The effect has been to make non-oil and non-gas tradables less competitive internationally. The IDB study concluded that Trinidad’s private sector is not up to the challenge of supporting economic growth, creating employment or national revenue, or contributing to the economic welfare of the country. For all that oil and gas, what a completely emasculated business sector!
Trinidad also has a Natural Gas plant that it has had to mothball, despite pumping hundreds of millions of public funds into the initiative. If its citizens hadn’t fought 10 years ago against the establishment of a gas-fed aluminum smelter all the way to where the court declared the Environmental Impact Assessment illegal, Trinidad would have been left high and dry with that too on its hands. Of course, back then the Trinidadian government justified these ill-fated developments as “progress” and in the “country’s welfare”. It denounced any citizen that spoke out against the absurdity. As I am sure our government is poised to do. But is it really in our interest to be afraid and stay quiet in the face of this assault on our rights and future wellbeing?
Is it really in our local business sector’s interest to hitch our wagon to a dying horse? All over the world, countries are divesting away from hydrocarbons, passing legislation that prevents any new investment in gas infrastructure, and banning petrochemical products. Do we believe it is wise to use public funds to expand with mega-sized oil and gas projects or is it better to invest the revenues from offshore production into non-hydrocarbon dependent forms of energy and multiple local businesses? Of course, there will be opportunities for firms to work directly in the oil and gas industry, and those involved in buying and selling will benefit, but what about our manufacturing sector and the cost of living for ordinary Guyanese? De we honestly want to or need to go any deeper down the hydrocarbon dependent path? Don’t we want to talk about this at least?
Is it unreasonable to expect and demand a structured public national conversation that allows for a transparent assessment of costs and benefits?
It is barely a year and the PPP/C’s leadership is back to the obnoxious lawlessness and authoritarianism that caused the party to lose the support of middle ground voters in 2015. We didn’t want a dictatorship then, we didn’t want it in APNU+AFC, and we don’t want one now. Does the entire business community really want one?
The silence of the 2020 advocates for democracy, especially the Private Sector Commission, Chamber of Commerce, foreign Western missions, and small joinder parties is loud. It suggests if anything that our country is still very much in a governance crisis, a more insidious one than APNU’s silly attempt to hold on to power in 2020. It is left to those who stood up in 2020 because of their principles and young men and women whose futures are being decided behind their backs to stand up now.
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