May 14, 2022 News
– Int’l lawyer says: Country needs stronger rules to guarantee transparency, accountability, impartiality, and independence in the industry
By Renay Sambach
Kaieteur News – Upon assuming office in August 2020, the PPP administration had promised an overhaul for Guyana’s petroleum laws. In fact, President Dr. Irfaan Ali during his inauguration address pledged to establish a Petroleum Commission to insulate the oil and gas sector from political interference.However, it has been 21 months since the government assumed office and it has yet to honour its promise to the nation.
The Petroleum Commission Bill was initially proposed by the APNU+AFC for the establishment of an independent body which would hold responsibility for monitoring and enforcing Guyana’s modernized petroleum laws, policies and oil agreements. The body was also intended to ensure oil companies comply with health, safety and environmental standards.
That Bill was however sent to a Special Select Committee since its most fatal flaw or characteristic was that it gave the Natural Resources Minister, Raphael Trotman at the time, a toxic level of control over the said body.
Since assuming office, the PPP/C Government has not made any headway with the improvement of the Bill, much less its passage. Both the Vice President, Dr. Bharrat Jagdeo and Natural Resources Minister, Vickram Bharrat have agreed that such a body is needed to ensure the sector is independently managed and kept away from political influence.
In fact, in March 2021, the Minister Bharrat had stated that within a matter of weeks, the independent regulator the government promised to establish for the oil sector would be in place.
Minister Bharrat was also quoted on the Guyana Basins Summit website as saying that the Commission is needed so it can “manage this emerging sector without political interference.”
Kaieteur News had reported that according to Bharrat, the commission will oversee the implementation of new regulations such as minimum local content requirements.
Attorney General, Anil Nandlall, had told Kaieteur Radio during an interview with Guyana’s Oil & You hostess, Kiana Wilburg, that the Bill is at the Ministry of Natural Resources and it is being actively considered by a Legal Department within that Ministry.
The Attorney General had shared that the Department is working closely with the Chief Parliamentary Counsel attached to the Attorney General Chambers and had cited that changes are likely to be seen. Since then, the government has not disclosed the progress made on this front.
Notwithstanding the importance of the Petroleum Commission Bill, the government in the meantime has engaged in the cherry picking of legislative reform to award itself sweeping powers over the country’s oil revenue. Kaieteur News had reported that the PPP/C Government had hurriedly passed the highly amended Natural Resources Fund Act (NRF Act) in December 2021, which gives it control over how the oil money is to be spent. The administration even amended a small part the nation’s 1986 oil law so as to ensure ExxonMobil has a smooth flow with lands to be used or disrupted during the construction of the gas-to-energy project and other initiatives.
It was last year August Members of Parliament had debated and passed the Petroleum (Production and Exploration) Amendment Bill-2021, which ensures oversight by the government during the acquisition of private lands by a licensee for major oil projects. Significantly, it ensures that there is proper compensation for citizens when such lands are acquired.
Kaieteur News had reported that the amendments to the Bill were made in the name of Minister Bharrat. During the second reading of the Bill, the Minister noted that the amendments occur at Section 52 of the Principal Act to enhance the Government’s management of the development of the petroleum sector onshore. He had said it provides additional scope for the Minister to oversee the exercise of a licensee’s rights over private land and will further strengthen and protect private proprietary interests as enshrined in the Constitution.
Mr. Bharrat said the amendments would also apply to existing licensee operations as well as those who may wish to join the race for oil in Guyana in the future.
In light of the cherry-picking approach, government appears to have taken with legislative reform for the oil sector, international lawyer Melinda Janki yesterday cited the need for Guyana to do better on this front. Janki categorically stated that the country needs stronger rules to guarantee transparency, accountability, impartiality, and independence in Guyana’s oil and gas sector.
Janki even called on citizens to defend grave financial and economic threat that are posed by the determination to the oil and gas under an exploitive and abusive contract.
Attorney-at-Law, Christopher Ram, in a previous interview with this newspaper had also hammered home the importance of this crucial regulator while bemoaning the seeming unwillingness of the current government to get the ball rolling on this matter.
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