Exxon oil spill insurance case: Govt approaches CCJ to correct violation of natural justice – AG Nandlall

– says State has an established interest in case, should be added as party

Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Anil Nandlall, SC., has defended the government’s decision to approach the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) after the Court of Appeal would have rejected their efforts to join the ExxonMobil oil spill insurance case.

Authorities in Guyana testing its national response mechanisms in case of an oil spill

It was recently revealed that the government of Guyana had approached the CCJ in February of this year. Further, it was revealed that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), ExxonMobil Guyana and citizens Godfrey Whyte and Frederick Collins, were named as respondents.
According to the Attorney General during a recent TV programme, not making the State a party to a case that deals with a contract it is already a party to, as well as a case that would have a huge impact on the State, is a violation of natural justice.
“All the physical expansions taking place in the country, all the infrastructure work taking place in the country, all the highways, all the bridges that are being built, all the hospitals, all the housing drives.”
“This oil and gas contract and the revenues are connected to all of that. This sector is critical to the public good and developmental agenda of our country. So not only are we a party to the contract itself, but Guyana and its people stand to benefit significantly from this contract,” Nandlall said.
He further pointed out that Guyana’s legislation allows for any citizen to institute legal proceedings or to be joined in those proceedings. This, he noted, is without exception. Then there is the Petroleum Activities Act, which mandates that the state should be a party in any case that could see the petroleum industry being put at risk.
“Under the new Petroleum Activities Act, we have inserted a provision that these cases, when they are filed, the state must be made a party. Because one of these sectors can be shut down. And the government is not heard. Now this case was filed, in relation to the financial assurance that was not lodged by the oil company. The state was not made a party. The government of Guyana was not named as a party. Now, the Environmental Protection Agency alone was named.”
“The government is a party to the contract, as I said. How can you take a case to the court, in relation to this contract, in relation to operations under this contract, in relation to the license issued under the contract and you are not naming the government as a party? They filed these proceedings. Look at the unfairness,” Nandlall further said.
The Attorney General noted that it was the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Government that passed laws allowing persons to file lawsuits against the government, state actors and other state players, including the EPA.
The AG recalled that the People’s Progressive Party/Civic had to fight to get the former government to give effect to this law. And he noted that now, the government is not being afforded equal protection under the law when it comes to a case that has serious implications for the state.
“So, the law gives them an interest and allows them the ability and capacity to file. But the very government now, who has an interest greater than all of them combined… and you don’t want the government to be heard? We have the most liberal judicial review legislation in this part of the world, that allows the citizens of this country to challenge any action or any decision made by the government and those who are in authority in the state apparatus.”
“The PPP gave the people of Guyana that right. Why? Because we believe that our actions must be subject to scrutiny. Judicial scrutiny and public scrutiny. And if the citizens feel aggrieved by these actions, they have a right to approach the court. And we have made that right very accessible. So, I want to underscore that point. Now that is the legislation being used, to launch all these proceedings,” Nandlall also said.
Last year, the High Court had ruled that ExxonMobil must provide unlimited insurance for its offshore oil operations in the Stabroek Block. Both the EPA and Exxon have since appealed this decision and it is now before the Court of Appeal. (G-3)