Jan 13, 2022 News
Kaieteur News – With the Head of State, Irfaan Ali, signaling his intention to “soon” appoint members to sit on the Natural Resource Fund (NRF) Board of Directors, which will oversee the revenues garnered from oil and gas, the political Opposition is registering its concern over the fact that the country will not have a say in how the oil money will be spent.
In an invited comment, Shadow Oil and Gas Minister, David Patterson specifically pointed to the fact that the new law provides for the President to handpick members to sit on the Board, with no input from the Opposition, which also represents a large proportion of Guyana.
Section 5 (1) of the amended legislation states “There shall be a Board of Directors of the Fund which shall comprise of not less than three and not more than five members who shall be appointed by the President, one of whom shall be appointed Chairperson by the President”.
This Board replaces the 22-member Committee the previous administration had put in place to ensure transparency and inclusion of key stakeholders such as civil society organisations and community-based organisations, the Bar Association of Guyana, the Guyana Consumer’s Association; the Guyana Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), the Transparency International Guyana Inc. (TIGI) and the Guyana Press Association, among others.
Nevertheless, the NRF Act of 2021 clearly states that no Member of Parliament can serve on the Board.
When it comes to the functions of the Board, the Act is clear in Section 5 (5) that it shall be responsible for “the overall management of the Fund, reviewing and approving policies of the Fund, monitoring the performance of the Fund, ensuring compliance with the approved policies of the Fund, exercising general oversight of all aspects of the Fund and ensuring that the Fund is managed in compliance with this Act and all other applicable laws”.
However, the same clear guidelines do not relate to the qualifications a suitable candidate may possess. Instead, the NRF Act vaguely says at Section 5 (2) that “The Directors shall be selected from among persons who have wide experience and ability in legal, financial, business, or administrative matters, one of whom shall be nominated by the National Assembly and one of whom shall be a representative of the private sector”.
In this regard, Patterson said there are still concerns about who will be selected by the President to sit on the Board.
He said, “We still have extreme concerns because the Act has no clear designations and qualifications in general terms like for legal or financial (persons) and there are no clear guidelines on selecting those people. I mean like what are the qualifications and the backgrounds for these persons and how its set up, the President will pick three on his own deliberations with no input from anyone”.
The MP argued that this section of the Law drafted by the government, gives no room for Parliamentarians or even the regular citizen to challenge or question who the President decides to appoint.
Patterson told Kaieteur News “the President will obviously therefore put in persons who he is very comfortable with and then with the one with the National Assembly, because the PPP has the majority they will also pick somebody who they are very comfortable with”.
According to the former Minister of Public Infrastructure, the Opposition has raised concerns in the past with regard to the Private Sector, whom they believe are “closely aligned with government”.
With the removal of the 22-member Committee, formerly required under the NRF Act of 2019, Patterson said, there will be no transparency on how the oil money will be spent and managed.
“With this amount of money, it does not augur well for the country at all. That is why we were asking for more time, so that we can come up with an arrangement that is suitable for the whole country. This what they are doing obviously is not. There was no input from anyone else except from the Private Sector (on the NRF Bill),” the former Minister reasoned.
He added, “I do think it will be a handpicked Board to do the government’s bidding and the country will be fleeced by this Board and this Bill that has passed”.
Patterson predicts that the PPP administration will install its NRF Board of Directors before the reading of Budget 2022 so that the body will not have an opportunity to even understand its functions before the monies are withdrawn.
“They will put the Board in place just before the budget is read so that they can transfer the money so this Board wouldn’t even have an opportunity in the short space of time to even figure out what they are supposed to do, but the money will already be taken away so the Board will almost be useless. And obviously they are going to take out the entire US$500 million in the first tranche and the Board will have no input, even though it is a handpicked Board,” Patterson posited.
He contended, “There is absolutely no transparency in this arrangement at all, it is just a smoke-screen…we would have liked people like the Toshaos Council, the Transparency International, the Regions would have had an opportunity to say how they want the money to be spent because it belongs to all of Guyana and not just the PPP”.
On Tuesday, President Ali told reporters on the sidelines of an event that the Board of Directors will soon be installed as he is still examining the potential names.
Ali was quoted as saying, “The selection of the Board will be urgent and you will be surprised, but definitely I have been examining names… and I think that the people have entrusted me with the responsibility, and I intend to execute that responsibility with great honour, dignity and integrity and you will see that in the Board”.
Patterson said that the President’s statement was highly amusing, since the evidence or track record of the PPP would point to the opposite of those qualities mentioned by him.
He said, “It is almost laughable to think that they would do what is transparent and non-corrupt. The history doesn’t support that”.
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