Political control of oil revenue major concern for civil society

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By Bibi Khatoon

As Guyana gets closer to reaping the benefits of its incoming oil revenues, civil society organizations are particularly concerned with the implications of political directive on the spending of the country’s new-found wealth.

Speaking at a discussion forum on the Green Paper presented to the National Assembly about the establishment of the Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF) held at the Pegasus Hotel on Thursday, Trade Unionist, Lincoln Lewis noted that the fund needs to be tied to a developmental plan.

“We can’t continue to be a rich country with poor people,” Lewis told those gathered, including representatives from the Finance Ministry.

“The Ministry of Finance and other agencies of the Government got to talk to the people in Albouystown, in Anna Regina. Why you want to sit down in an office and determine what people must get every time?

“…The politicians have made decisions over the years that impact negatively on people’s lives,” the Trade Unionist noted.

He alluded to revenues accrued from other sectors in the past but did not benefit majority of the citizens, noting that “it is the family, cohorts and friends of politicians who benefit.”

Lewis said: “We cannot allow the current status quo that exist to be in place.”

Chairman of the Private Sector’s Economic and Finance Committee, Ramesh Persaud made a proposal on the composition of the board of the Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF) – one which will eliminate the chances of political directives.

He suggested that a Senior Counsel, an Accountant, an Economist, the Head of a publicly listed company, the Head of a global company and someone from the Labour sector among others, sit on the Board for the SWF.

According to Persaud, these persons should be nominated by Organisations representing those professionals locally and abroad.

He also proposed several measures which will ensure transparency and accountability that covers areas of reporting, the elimination of certain responsibilities given to the Bank of Guyana in the current Green Paper ‘Managing Future Petroleum Revenues and Establishment of a Fiscal Rule and a Sovereign Wealth Fund.’

Persaud believes that the fund should be set up in a way that “the Government with approval from the committees, apply for funding from the Sovereign Wealth Fund fulfilling all of the feasibility conditions that is required…when it approaches any International Financial institution.”

Also contributing to the panel was Political Analyst and Chartered Accountant, Chris Ram, who noted that what needs to be taken into consideration is the lack of legislation to govern the sector at a time when a SWF is being crafted.

“We’ve got to decide on a proper Governance structure. We have to have policies…Where will we get the assurance that the Ministry of Finance will not do what it has done with all of the other funds lying around there?” he questioned.

Also present at the gathering was Budget Director, Sonya Roopnauth, who sought to clarify a number of issues raised.

She noted that the SWF aims to protect the local economy from the volatility of petroleum prices and Guyana will be the first country to have one in place before the start of oil production.

She assured that the legislation governing the fund will be done in a way to avoid manipulation.

The Green paper was presented to the National Assembly on August 9, 2018 and also made public, sparking discussions on the document across society.

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