By Devina Samaroo
Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo has shot down government’s latest excuse for not releasing the details of the ExxonMobil contract, debunking the argument that full disclosure will explode into a national security threat.
Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo had cited the unresolved border row between Venezuela and Guyana as a security risk and as a reason for not making public the contract with the oil giant. However, Jagdeo, a former President, believes such a justification is baseless and leaves no hope that transparency will prevail in the management of the burgeoning oil and gas sector.
“This agreement governs extraction of the resources, Venezuela probably knows all that ExxonMobil found, in fact it’s public record, this is a public traded company…Venezuela knows about what the resources are. So what is secret?
“Is the production agreement? Venezuela can say you [Guyana] have a bad agreement and we [Venezuela] have a better one but it has no national security implication but they are trying to morph this to fit into what the President (and others) said by ascribing a national security reason for the non-release of this contract,” the Opposition Leader told a news conference on Friday, August 25 at his Church Street, Georgetown office.
Jagdeo reaffirmed that the government has an obligation to make full disclosure on all contracts, noting that companies will not pull out their investment if the administration adopts such a policy.
ExxonMobil’s Senior Director, Public and Government Affairs, Kimberly Brasington had said that the company is prepared to make public all the details of the contract if the host country’s laws make it mandatory.
“With respect to publishing entire contracts, it is ExxonMobil’s preference not to disclose contracts and private agreements in order to protect proprietary or commercially sensitive information. However, if the law in a particular country requires it, we follow the law,” Brasington is quoted as saying in online news agency, OilNow.
Meanwhile, the Opposition Leader also raised concerns with the legal architecture to govern the oil and gas industry, as he lamented on the slow progress made in some areas.
Regarding the Sovereign Wealth Fund, Jagdeo was suspicious of Minister of Natural Resources, Raphael Trotman’s reasons for dubbing the Norwegian Model as outdated when “the world” believes it is the best.
“It is the most successful model in the world that has separate the management of oil resources from the politicians, it’s done technically and the procedures are clear so political persons don’t get their hand on the money, it also avoided the destruction of the rest of the economy through the Dutch disease,” he argued.
Jagdeo also noted that even in light of Trotman’s disregard for that model, the Natural Resources Minister is yet to present an alternative to the public. The former President also expressed concerns of the protracted delay in the establishment of local content legislation.
Another sore issue for the Opposition Leader was the powers granted to the Minister of Natural Resources under the Petroleum Bill which was recently presented in the National Assembly.
The Bill proposes the establishment of a Petroleum Commission whereby the subject minister would have powers to appoint key players and in the absence of such appointments, he can become those players.
“The minister can appoint the board, the minister can fire the board, if the board isn’t appointed the minister becomes the board, the minister can appoint the chairman, the minister can fire the chairman and the minister can become the chairman if there is no chairman and other things, like he appoints secretary to the board,” Jagdeo asserted.
He emphasised that such an entity should be staffed with technical people but said he suspects that the coalition administration intends to pave the way for political hands to touch the oil resources.