Dec 22, 2021 Editorial
Kaieteur News – Wherever there is oil in Third World countries, covetous leaders study and plot how to help themselves from their nation’s oil revenues fund. In Guyana, this is called the Natural Resources Fund (NRF), and leaders in the PPP Government have long eyed it, and now they are acting upon the greediness that they cannot resist. This is what today’s leaders have come up with in proposals aimed at amending existing natural resources legislation. Like nearly everything the PPP Government brings in the open, there is some nice ring to what is proposed. There are also worrying gaps, in the possible avenues that could be explored to cheat Guyanese some more.
Our recent caption indicates what could be in store: “PPP/C wants to give itself power to override oil money rules – can withdraw any amount it sees fit for emergency – puts no jail time for abuse of mechanism” (KN December 19). We examine this in some detail. Emergency is comprehensive, mentioning such major natural disasters as earthquake, hurricane, flood, which speak for themselves in terms of possible gravity. But there is that all-purpose phrase “other disasters” which could be deemed severe enough to warrant withdrawal. Because Guyana’s Governments and their leaders have been so twisted and untrustworthy, the highest vigilance is required. Leaders have dealt most crookedly with taxpayers’ money on most things (big dollar projects, huge loans, and improperly accounting for them, to give citizens value for their money), which demand the greatest watchfulness on this or any other government. The catchall phrase “other disasters” could end up being whatever Government leaders say those are, with great loss to the NRF, through unnecessary withdrawals.
The fact that there is no provision to hold accountable those who cheat the system, by abusing “emergency” mechanism is a warning. This is one area of trickiness in the proposed amendments to the NRF, and the situations under which withdrawals can be made without fear. Given that this falls under the control of one person, namely, the “minister” and his opinion of what is needed in an emergency, only adds to the worry of opportunity to abuse this emergency provision, without fear of penalty, including jail time. First, no single person, no minister, no Vice President alone, no President by himself, ought to be given that carte blanche freedom to play fast and loose with this country’s oil fund. For sure, there are various calculations for different scenarios, but as Guyanese know from bitter experience, leave politicians alone in charge of the bank, and before long bankruptcy hangs over the nation’s head. When there are questions, there is nobody to give straight answers. These decisions are best handled by a small, trusted, independent group of civilians, working with the minister.
Further, there are other components of the draft proposals that trouble. One stated purpose is “to manage the natural resource fund for the present and future benefit of the people.” We have never heard from any Government (PPP/C or PNC) anything that was not for the benefit of the people. Yet look where those same people are today, with escalating debt, government secrecies, an illegal Contingency Fund deficit (unknown to the people), and corruptions that have cost billions. Most of these have occurred under all governments, but nowhere as much as they are with today’s PPP/C Government. It is frightening the lengths to which this Government goes to cheat and swindle Guyanese. Which is why we are concerned with what we detect to be opportunities for skullduggeries with this NRF.
Now, we share one more cover under which costly shenanigans could occur with this NRF. It is right there in another purpose: “using the natural resource wealth to finance national development priorities” including green economy initiatives. On paper that looks good, but only when it is in the hands of leaders and ministers, who can be trusted to be sensible and principled with the responsibility vested in them. They have been neither sensible nor principled when money is involved. Give them the blanket of “to finance national development priorities” and that NRF comes under pressure of the most scurrilous kind. Anything that Government says is such a priority becomes one. Indeed, we are this skeptical, this cynical.
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