Kaieteur News- The oil companies have us where they want us. They must be very amused at the drama which unfolded in the National Assembly last Wednesday.
The parliamentary representatives of the Government and the Opposition were at odds with each other over the Natural Resources Fund Bill. Ruckus unfolded during its passage.
The parliamentary Opposition was not interested in political compromise. They spurned a meeting with the government. The meeting was ostensibly called to discuss their objections to the Bill but only two persons turned up from the Opposition side.
On the Local Content Bill, the Opposition had tabled 14 amendments and 10 of these were accepted, a historic development in compromise in the National Assembly. However, the Opposition was more interested in burying the Natural Resource Fund Bill in a Select Committee where it would have languished, thereby preventing use of the oil proceeds in the forthcoming Budget. The government was clearly opposed to this manoeuvre and therefore pushed through the Bill.
The Opposition was not prepared nor did it have any intention of debating the amendments to the Natural Resources Fund Bill. Its protests outside the National Assembly demonstrated how ill-prepared it was. One banner called for insertion of the Santiago Principles without recognising that the Bill itself committed to these principles.
The Opposition would have found itself in a tangle had it opted to debate the PPP/C’s Natural Resource Fund Bill. Because in as much as that Bill was flawed, the original Bill which was tabled and passed by the APNU+AFC after the passage of the no-confidence motion, was even more flawed.
It would have been difficult for the APNU+AFC to criticise, for example, the governing Board of the Natural Resources Fund, when the APNU+AFC’s own Natural Resources Fund Act, made no provision for such a governing Body but instead placed too much authority in the Minister of Finance.
The APNU+AFC’s formula for withdrawals from the Fund was described as complex and opaque. The PPP/C’s formula was far simpler but the devil was in the detail. It now permits the PPP/C to withdraw substantial sums. But the APNU+AFC did not recognise this deficiency and even if it had it would have been hard pressed to defend its own formula.
For these and other similar reasons, the APNU+AFC found itself in a political and moral conundrum. It could not effectively criticise the PPP/C’s Bill without exposing its own highly flawed original version. It therefore set the stage for what unfolded in the National Assembly.
The oil companies could not have been more pleased. Here were the country’s two main political groupings fencing with each other over amendments about the management and oversight of the oil revenues, while they, the oil companies, are creaming away the country’s wealth.
The oil companies must be having a good laugh at our expense. Here it is, the country’s two main political groupings squabbling over the crumbs which are being thrown its way: 2 percent royalties and 12.5 percent profit oil.
The Natural Resources Fund has been established for two years and all that the country has received thus far is less than US$600M. This is what the country’s political parties are fighting about.
US$600M, and whatever is to follow, cannot fix the problems of this country in the next 10 years. We live in a country in which the majority of communities do not have concrete drains or proper waste disposal systems. The septic tank still remains the principal means of sewage disposal for the majority of households.
We live in a country in which the roads in many villages are in a poor state. Many of them are sand roads. Few communities have road lights.
We live in a country in which the drains are choked with garbage and overgrowth and the outfall canals have not been dredged in decades. We live in a country in which floods occur after a few inches of rainfall, and where the pumps and sluices cannot remove the water quickly from the land.
We live in a society where people are being robbed and killed almost daily. Anyone who has taken a drive around the country during the wee hours of the morning would recognise how susceptible citizens are to criminal home invasions.
We live in a country in which education is in a crisis. Half of our children fail the National Grade Six Assessment (NGSA) and the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) examinations.
We live in a country in which health care leaves much to be desired. If you are seriously sick and require specialised care and do not have money to seek treatment at a private hospital, you face a life-threatening situation.
We live in a country in which government expenditure is inverted. Instead of the bulk of the money being spent on capital expenditure, as in most Caribbean states, Guyana is spending more than 60 percent of its expenditure on the upkeep of a highly incompetent public bureaucracy.
To fix these and the many other problems requires money, lots of money. And what was negotiated with the oil companies by the APNU+AFC cannot provide the returns to fix those problems within the next 10 years. The 2 percent royalties and the 12.5 percent profit oil simply will not suffice.
Instead of therefore fighting over the crumbs, which we are receiving, the government and the Opposition should be addressing their minds to renegotiating the oil contract. Instead of squabbling over the management and oversight of the Natural Resources Fund, the two main political entities should be looking at how the country can obtain a better deal.
(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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