There is no comprehensive vision for oil industry – Robert Persaud

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Former Minister of Natural Resources, Robert Persaud, Tuesday said there is “a lot of chatter” and no comprehensive vision to move the country forward with revenues to be generated from the oil and gas industry.

“That’s where we have a gap – …the national vision of the country by 2030,” he told journalists during an interactive session on Tuesday, noting that there has been no concrete plan to ensure that the resources transform the country.

Oil production is expected to begin early 2020 just after the next General and Regional Elections on March 02. Guyana’s elections cycle is five years but Persaud said the plan must run for a longer period.

“Individual parties or individual leaders may have a vision of their own but where is the collective national vision?” he questioned, adding that there needs to be an inclusive conversation on the framework for development.

“I think we have a lot of chatter, we need to see results, we need to see commitments, we need to see specifics and that’s what has been lacking… I have not read, seen nor heard a cohesive comprehensive vision that is being adumbrated by the Government,” he added.

Persaud said while there have been some clear commitments from the Opposition, inclusive of making the management of the oil wealth more independent, he looks forward to seeing their manifesto.

Governance

The first oil discovery was announced in May 2015 by Persaud himself days before the last elections which saw the APNU+AFC Coalition emerging as the winner.

The current government has so far only passed the legislation governing the Sovereign Wealth Fund or what is called the Natural Resources Fund (NRF) which will channel resources towards specific projects.

However, the former Government Minister said a governance framework is missing.

Robert Persaud (left) along with former President Donald Ramotar visit an oil rig in 2015

A Petroleum Commission Bill was also tabled in the National Assembly but was later sent to select committee. Following the passage of the No-Confidence motion against the Government on December 21, 2018, there has been no full sitting of the National Assembly.

But Persaud pointed out that the administration had three years prior to the motion to get systems in place and oil companies should also push for a robust regime.

“I think every company that is currently and will be operating in Guyana…it is in their interest to ensure that you have that governance framework,” he noted.

There has also been much criticism over the lack of a local content policy and Persaud has described the draft document as “an apology” rather than a policy.

With the absence of new or updated legislation until after March 2020, Persaud urged the Department of Energy to be a bit more cautious in how it proceeds with new and other arrangements.

While the head of the Department of Energy is a technical person in the form of Dr. Mark Bynoe, Persaud said there is an issue with the responsibilities for the sector falling under the ambit of different agencies including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) and the Ministry of Finance, among others.

Robert Persaud, the former Minister of Natural Resources

Persaud has said he will not re-enter politics unless he is offered a role where he can contribute to the country in a significant way.

He was asked about his plans for the petroleum sector if offered a job after the next elections. He said he will ensure that there is harmonization among the entities dealing with the sector.

He also touted a Petroleum Commission removed from political control, investments in energy and specialized systems in place to manage the sector.

“Oil is not a curse, oil is a blessing,” the former Minister said. But he noted that it will not transform the country until its fifth year of earnings.

Further, Persaud noted that the agriculture and petroleum sector needs to be developed alongside each other to push more value-added products.

Having been a member of the People’s Progressive Party which has faced several criticisms for its decisions while in Government, Persaud was asked why anyone should listen to him.

To this, he said: “We tend to look at the messenger rather than the message and because we operate in an environment which is heavily politicized/ polarized or anything that comes out my mouth has to be something against someone…rather than stepping back and say does it make sense.”

He noted that while everyone has their preferences but sometimes persons need to “park those preferences” for the greater good.

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