Jagdeo: Imprisonment for non-disclosure of oil revenues

-legislation will reduce interface between politicians & oil companies

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By Vishani Ragobeer

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With the proposed amendments to the Natural Resource Fund (NRF) Act, stricter penalties for handling oil monies are being proposed including the responsible minister possibly being jailed for 10 years if he/she fails to tell Guyanese about oil monies received.

This is according to Vice President Dr. Bharrat Jagdeo who addressed the annual Awards Ceremony and Gala Dinner of the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI) on Thursday night.

The Vice President announced that the highly-anticipated oil laws will be presented to the National Assembly on December 16. These laws are the new Local Content legislation and the amendments to the NRF.

Speaking specifically on the NRF, Dr. Jagdeo said that there are four major sets of changes that are being proposed to the NRF.

To this end, he indicated that the government was sticking to its commitment of introducing imprisonment for non-disclosure of revenues coming from the oil and gas industry and reducing the interface between politicians and oil companies.

Importantly, one of the major changes would be the institution of a hefty 10-year imprisonment penalty if the Finance Minister does not reveal that oil monies have been received, after at least three months of receiving those revenues.

It is expected that the monies received would be published in the Official Gazette for public information and perusal.

Dr. Jagdeo pointed out that this measure is to ensure that there is no secret pocketing of oil revenues, alluding to a signing bonus received by the former APNU+AFC Government from ExxonMobil in 2016.

The sum spent one year in an account at the Bank of Guyana unknowing to the public and in violation of the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act (FMA).

Aside from the jail-time proposal, the other amendments include revamping the NRF oversight committee which comprises 22 organisations, and establishing a Board of Directors that separates the subject Minister and the Management of the Fund.

A simpler mathematical formula that the “complex” formula used for the NRF is also being proposed to determine how the money accumulated will be saved and spent.

Guyana currently has about US$534 million (approximately GY $112 billion) in the NRF, kept in the New York Federal Reserve Bank. With the sale of this final oil for the year, that fund could increase to over US$600 million.

But, since taking office last year, the PPP/C government has refused to tap that oil fund until necessary amendments could be made to the existing NRF Act. This is so because it is believed that the existing Act has numerous flaws.

Additionally, the passage of the bill which enacted the existing NRF law has been controversial since it was done following the successful 2018 No-Confidence motion brought by the PPP/C against the then APNU+AFC government.

The Vice- President was confident that the amendments to the Fund would be passed in the National Assembly; the PPP/C government has the parliamentary majority.

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