The Guyana Government is once again being chided for its actions in relation to the development of a sound oil and gas industry.
This time for its failure to lead discussions and consultations on the development of the Natural Resources and Sovereign Wealth Funds, contained in its Green Paper on the management of oil revenues, produced by the Ministry of Finance.
State employees linked to key agencies to manage the newly found natural resource and its accompanying revenue were notably absent from the inaugural Guyana Energy Forum (GEF) organized by the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI), at Duke Lodge, Kingston, Georgetown.
The Forum was geared towards encouraging discussions on renewable energy and the Natural Resources and Sovereign Wealth Funds within the rubric of recent oil and gas discoveries.
In fact, GCCI’s Executive Director, Richard Rambarran was forced to step up and make a presentation on managing future petroleum revenues, the establishment of a fiscal rule and a Sovereign Wealth Fund.
Rambarran said the presentation was to be made by the Ministry of Finance but the Ministry declined at the last minute because of “internal communication issues.”
But that excuse did not sit well with Christopher Ram, one of the panellists at the forum, who berated the Government, saying that the Chamber has to now do Government’s work.
“It is mind-boggling, that with so many Government agencies involved not a single of them could find time to participate in this consultation,” he said.
Ram singled out the Ministries of Natural Resources and Finance, the Department of Energy and the Petroleum Unit and said it was a “national disgrace… the Government is yet to explain and defend its own paper.”
He nonetheless, commended the Chamber for initiating the discussions which specifically targets the contents of the Government’s green paper.
Ram, in his own assessment, said the paper which sets out Government policies and proposals for legislative changes and anticipates a Natural Resources Fund Act, required much more serious consideration and consultation.
He questioned the lack of information on the size of revenues to be discussed.
“All this big talk about a Sovereign Wealth Fund and we still don’t know what it is. Exxon [Mobil] has not told us yet what the cost of production will be… at least Exxon Mobil by now can tell us what are their price assumptions and the Government must ask Exxon what is the cost for production,” Ram said.
He also criticized any move for political interference in the process.
Ram was supported by his fellow panellist, Charles Ramson Jr. who commended those in attendance to lend a voice to the cause.
He said it is important for the Government to lead similar activities.
Ramson said citizens must have a continuous say in how policy is developed and public officials must not feel like they have been elected to leave the people out of important decision making.
He said too that the Government must also learn to work with its political rivals and treat oil with the importance it deserves.
“The biggest mistake is that oil is being treated in a partisan way,” the Attorney-at-Law noted.
The GCCI said there are tough questions to be asked based on the proposed Green Paper and hopes that the Chamber will be afforded an opportunity in the near future to raise its concerns with the relevant authorities.