Jan 10, 2022 News
-Article 13 says, following rushed passage of controversial NRF Bill
Kaieteur News -In registering its disappointment over the ‘rushed’ passage of the Natural Resource Fund (NRF) Bill, and now legislation, local democratic watchdogs, Article 13, has warned that the ‘undue haste’ opens the door for misuse of the oil funds.
On Sunday, in a statement to the media, the civil society group, which comprises of prominent, outspoken Guyanese such as Chartered Accountant and Attorney at law Christopher Ram, telecommunications expert Yog Mahadeo and Jonathan Yearwood among others said, not only does the rushed Act opens the door for misuse, but it also disregards the Santiago Principles, which speaks to transparency.
“We consider it a salutary lesson that Kazakhstan, whose model of Sovereign Wealth Fund was being considered as a potential influence for Guyana’s, is now experiencing unprecedented disturbances, loss of lives, looting of private property, destruction of public property, and orders by the President to domestic and invited Russian troops to shoot to kill protesters without warning,” Article 13 said.
The body contended that in rejecting the recommendations and calls of the parliamentary opposition and civil society to be consulted on some of the biggest issues of the day, most recently the NRF Act, the Administration is rejecting a core concept of the Constitution and of democracy.
In this regard, the local watchdogs stated that the administration must respect the rights of the group, since an election may grant power to a political group for the administration of the state, but such power has to be exercised within the parameters of the law.
Recently, Article 13 was dismissed by the government for its comments made on general issues, but the group notified that it will not be silenced, nor will it give up its right to participate in the affairs of the country – a right recently affirmed by the Caribbean Court of Justice in the Ogle Airport case. The organisation pointed out that “Justice Jamadar, in endorsing the main judgment of the Court, placed the duty of the Government to consult and the right of society to be consulted in “the context of Guyanese constitutionalism.” Even in the narrow case of operators at the airport, Justice Jamadar posited that those operators “have a right to consultation on this matter, and the State, a concomitant duty to engage them in this process.”
“Guyana’s wealth too, belongs to the people, not to any political party,” Article 13 reminded, even as it highlighted that governments are elected to manage the country’s resources in the interest of both current and succeeding generations. “But when the Government fails to act in accordance with that mandate, the fundamental trust and confidence which holds society together are at best strained, and at worst, rendered asunder,” the body noted.
Additionally, it said that while the Parliamentary Opposition’s position is understandable with regard to the Bill, it would be equally remiss if it did not denounce the unacceptable, unparliamentary conduct of the opposition in the National Assembly and the ‘autocratic’ manner in which the Government forced its passage. The group said it is once again calling on President Irfaan Ali to use his immense powers to “see that the organs of the Constitution are established in the shortest possible time”.
“Not only Guyana, but the world is at a pivot point facing a systems failure in our economic, energy and the environmental models. At this critical time, Article 13 will continue to challenge the Government to demonstrate accountability and to ensure that the voices and concerns of the Guyanese people are heard, just as the Constitution requires,” the body added.
Analysts have warned that Guyana’s oil wealth must not be used to fund projects which may very well leave the country bankrupt. Economist Ramon Gaskin in a recent interview with this publication cautioned, “When you put politicians in charge of spending money and big, big money like that kind, you are going to have a lot of problems. You will have wastage, you will have squandermania and you will have corruption, all of which we have at the present time, so you will get more of it at a greater degree”.
At the end of November 2021, some US$534,040,707 was sitting in the NRF. Already the Head of State, Irfaan Ali has signaled his intention to utilise the funds on ‘green economy’ projects and infrastructural development. Ali told a news conference, “I made it very clear that one: we have to accelerate our infrastructure transformation; better roads, better drains, better facilities, better recreational facilities, greater lighting, greater support for security services for our accelerated infrastructure transformation. We have already laid out what those transformative projects are”.
Even more importantly, Ali noted that the NRF will be used to bring down the cost of electricity and create 50,000 jobs as was promised on the elections campaign trail. When it comes to the Amaila Falls and the heavily touted Gas to Shore Projects which the government believes will push the country forward, Gaskin argued: “We do not know, or we haven’t seen the numbers. We haven’t seen the data to show that these investments are feasible and viable. We haven’t seen it, but they want to go ahead and spend the money”. The GTS project lone will cost the government in excess of US$900 million, but Guyana still does not know how much money will be generated from the investment.
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