BY GHK Lall
Kaieteur News – What kind of crafty game is His Excellency, President Irfaan Ali playing on the Guyanese people? What is he about, what are his objectives, what is it that drives him to these lengths that makes him a lesser leader, a smaller man, than he is?
There is this matter involving what the Commonwealth of Nations took upon itself to share publicly. It is about being vigilant with oil companies, and especially when millions of dollars are involved, with a powerful example being decommissioning costs. In Guyana’s circumstances, it is of decommissioning millions taken out in advance for cleanup expenses decades down the line. That development alone should be enough to raise the level of local leadership alertness, anxiety, and discomfort. More anxieties and unease should arise at the top in the Government of Guyana, when the record of what has been done in the United States (yes, the US) where decommissioning cost was the issue, and how Chevron and other companies settled, but Exxon balked and dug in its heels, in that it refused to be a part of what was finalized in Court. It should be a lesson for us, leaders and citizens. Now back to the Commonwealth.
On January 9, 2023, the Commonwealth Secretariat published some guidance on decommissioning. The highlights were that decommissioning is very costly, and care should be taken to avoid taxpayers footing the bill and that poorly executed decommissioning projects can severely impact the environment and communities, and that it is critical that robust systems be in place. Moreover, the Commonwealth Secretariat’s Economic adviser, Ms. Nadeera Ogeer, stated that “companies who have benefited from these fossil fuels should pay for all cleanup and restoration activities” and “that the international community must be extremely vigilant” and that ‘the polluter pays’ principle” is followed.
I have difficulty detecting how, where, and why any of this could prompt resistance, even dodginess, in Guyana’s President. From my perspective, all of this is most helpful to Guyana’s cause, and should be welcomed. Thus, for President Ali to go to the mat about where Guyana is mentioned in the Commonwealth’s guidance registers as another example of burying his head in the sand. I would have thought that Guyana is a part of the ‘international community’ and that as an oil producing nation, it has a vested interest in embracing what can only be supportive to its interests.
Decommissioning costs can be a horror story, with the impoverishing result being former oil producing countries (when the wells and oil run dry) left to hold the cleanup bag. It can be billions, and wipeout all the income received earlier. This has been part of the sorry history of oil, and the vulnerability of either naïve or trusting or unhearing Third World societies. I think that President Ali is wiser than this. But for him to focus on where Guyana is named by the Commonwealth in its release misses the point, could be his system of ducking responsibility; standing tall, strong, and proud for Exxon.
The Commonwealth Secretariat is not known for a powerful record of speaking on economic issues, particularly that of fossil fuel, and the back end of it, namely, decommissioning costs. So, for the Secretariat to go out of its way and its people to highlight the ‘polluter pays’ principle indicates that a timely warning is being sent not generally to its 56-member constituency, but to Guyana, any way that this is considered. I assert this because there are not many countries under the Commonwealth umbrella that qualify as oil producing nations, and deal with decommissioning costs. By a process of elimination, that leaves few counties in the spotlight, and I will make the case that Guyana is one of that handful. I will go deeper and say that because there is this peculiarity, this rank repugnance, of Exxon deducting millions from Guyana’s oil revenues for decommissioning costs that will not happen until approximately 20 to 30 years from now, that the Commonwealth Secretariat is sending a helpful, sensitive, and timely message to the Guyana Government, and Guyana’s leadership, that costly perils could be in the making, if we are not careful.
When all this is studied and weighed, I find it baffling that Guyana’s President chases after straws and shadows, by putting up a wall that reveals more about his Government’s mismanagement of the nation’s oil wealth than whatever concealments he intended. The PPP, in the words of its own spokesmen, have trashed and cursed the oil contract that Guyana has with Exxon. I contend that when such was done, it was unavoidable that Exxon would also be trashed and cursed, whether said or unsaid. Surely, the President cannot be unconscious as to how Exxon rips-off Guyana via the decommissioning costs it takes out so early.
Considering all this, what I hear and observe from President Ali today on the Commonwealth release represents nothing but his putting of blinders on so that he can’t see, and pressing his thumbs into his ears so that he does not hear. This could come back to haunt Guyana.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and beliefs of this newspaper and its affiliates.)
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