Oil Boss accused of being ‘pretty slippery’ before Parliamentary Committee

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Rod Henson, the man managing’s ExxonMobil’s operations in Guyana was Friday morning accused of being “pretty slippery” when he appeared before the Parliamentary Committee on Natural Resources.

In fact, Henson had to apologise to the committee for saying he was not prepared to answer some of their questions. Further, he had to withdraw a statement he made calling a question posed by a Committee Member “hogwash.”

Henson is the Country Manager of Esso Exploration and Production Guyana Limited (EEPGL), the local affiliate of ExxonMobil, which plans to start oil production offshore Guyana in the next two years.

He was invited by the Parliamentary Committee to provide an update on the company’s operations and answer questions of concern to the Committee.

When it came to questions on the negotiations that led to the current petroleum agreement and the US$18 million signing bonus that was part of that agreement, Henson said he was not prepared to answer those questions because he did not know, as he was “not in the room” at the time, having only been hired a year ago.

Further, he said he didn’t expect that he would have had to answer those questions.

“Apparently to my fault, I had the impression we are talking local content today so I haven’t come prepared,” he said to the Committee’s Chairman Odinga Lumumba.

Lumumba objected, indicating that the Committee’s invitation was not just to discuss local content.

In the May 31, 2018 letter in response to the Committee, which was circulated to the media, Henson stated: “I welcome the opportunity to meet your Committee to provide an update on EEPGL operations.”

With Henson not prepared to answer questions regarding the contract and the signing bonus, the Committee completed its questioning and it was then that Lumumba accused Henson of being “pretty slippery” with the Committee and urged him to be prepared next time.

When the various members of the Committee pressed Henson to give a list of all the contractors working with the company on its operations in Guyana, he said the list was already given to the Government.

Lumumba then questioned him whether he was telling the Committee to go ask the Government for the list.

“Aren’t you the government?” Henson asked. He then apologised when told by Lumumba that the Committee was not the Government, adding that he was “confused.”

After a dogged insistence by Lumumba, Henson said he was willing to “go over that list” with the Committee.

Lumumba asked Henson to submit the list in writing to the committee, naming all contractors, their country of origin and the services they supply.

Henson had earlier indicated that the company has hired 42 foreign companies and that for the first quarter of this year alone, US$21 million was already invested on some 227 Guyanese companies associated with ExxonMobil’s operations in Guyana.

But Lumumba indicated that the Committee had some concerns about that list.

He added: “There are several names of companies and activities on the list which to many of us we don’t see that as part of local content.”

“I am sure you would not take your garbage to Houston [Texas, USA]; you obviously have to take it to the dumpsite in Guyana but I noticed it was down as local content.”

Henson told the committee that ExxonMobil’s contribution to the local economy is focused on workforce development, supplier development, and strategic investments.

He said that the ExxonMobil’s Guyana staff is now 40, with 70% being locals. Further, he said that on the overall operations, the workforce is 50% Guyanese.

‘Hogwash’

When it came to the company’s Corporate Social Responsibility, Committee Member Pauline Sukhai pointed to what she said were concerns in the public domain that the US$10 million donation from the ExxonMobil Foundation to Conservation International Guyana and the University represented a conflict of interest, since Conservation International is an international Non-Governmental Organisation that acts as a watchdog on conservation.

She also said there were public concerns that since the agreement with Conservation International hangs on the Green State Development Strategy, ExxonMobil was funding a political initiative, since the Strategy has not been “established” or approved by the National Assembly.

At this point, she was interrupted by Henson, something which is not in keeping with the usual practice when persons appear before Parliamentary Committees and are considered out of order.

“Sorry ma’am, I have to stop you,” Henson interjected.

He then added: “ExxonMobil is not involved with politics in Guyana. We don’t choose sides, we’re apolitical.

“We’re not funding any political party, any political side, any political initiatives, just full stop.”

Sukhai did not immediately object to being interrupted, but she sought to justify her question.

She stated: “Actually, you may want to stop me, but we have to stop the concern in the public domain because that is what is circulating and that’s why I chose to raise it here with you so you can have a chance to clarify.”

Henson then replied: “Well, I can’t control every individual’s thoughts and opinions, but I appreciate your opportunity to allow me to say that’s complete hogwash.”

Later, Sukhai raised the issue of the question being considered hogwash, and Lumumba asked Henson to withdraw the comment and he withdrew the word “hogwash.”

Committee Member Ronald Bulkan said it was “regrettable” that the Green State Development Strategy was being seen as a political initiative.

He said the strategy is a governmental initiative and has been exhaustively documented and hence it would be “unfair” to say it was not duly developed.

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