Free press critical in fight against oil corruption
…if citizens demand transparency, that will go a long way – DC Lawyer
The most important thing to acknowledge about ‘corruption’ is that: you can have all the laws and regulations in place, but if you do not have the leadership and personal conviction to not steal from the public coffers, none of it matters.
This was the profound and succinct warning underscored by Vicky McPherson as she interacted with participants of a symposium on public corruption and the oil resource curse, at the Guyana Pegasus hotel in Georgetown.
McPherson, of the Global Energy and Infrastructure Group and the Africa Practice Group at the international law firm Greenberg Traurig, was at the time responding to external pressures placed on smaller developing countries which inherently force corrupt acts.
She told participants it is for these reasons she underscores the importance of the role of civil society and a free press in all this.
According to McPherson, the determining factor in whether Guyana’s public figures succumb to the temptations of corruption is “whether or not civil society is active and vocal in development of that industry, and whether the press will report what it finds if it’s doing its job.”
Based in Washington DC but married to a Guyanese, the international legal powerhouse in the oil and gas sector sought to impress on those engaged in the development of the industry the fact that there will be some level of corruption that persists, since, at the end of the day, it reflects a personal choice on the part of that corrupt individual.
She was adamant, however, that this must not diminish the roles of civil society and the free press in demanding transparency. “If citizens demand transparency, that will go a long way,” she encouraged.
The Washington DC based attorney-at-law specialising in the oil and gas sector was also questioned on the controversial move on the part of the Donald Trump Administration to repeal the Dodd Frank Act – legislation enacted by the Obama Administration to guard against US oil companies exploiting countries such as Guyana through their contractual and other arrangements.
McPherson used the occasion to point to the fact that such a scenario is precisely why a vibrant indigenous citizenry is of such importance to guarding against the resource curse and corruption in public office as a result of the inflows from the oil and gas sector.
“The role of civil society in this is key,” she said, and sought to expound the point that, regardless of what happens in the US, it is the Guyanese population that has a right to decide even more stringent requirements in order to protect its resources.
McPherson did seek to clarify that while the provision in the US’ Dodd Frank Act have not been repealed as yet, the legislative safeguards are currently under threat.
One member of the audience drew reference to the fact that the repeal of the safeguards in the Dodd Frank Act is being led by former Chairman of ExxonMobil, Rex Tillerson, now US Secretary of State.
Exxon Mobil discovered oil in commercial quantities offshore Guyana under the tenure of Tillerson, before he was called up by the Donald Trump Administration to serve as Secretary of State.
Among the first legislative changes promulgated by the Trump Administration and Tillerson is the repeal of the provisions of the Dodd Frank Act, which safeguard countries like Guyana from nefarious practices by companies such as ExxonMobil.
Section 15:02 of the Dodd Frank Act, known as the Conflict Minerals Rule, has been under unprecedented scrutiny by various agencies of the US Government in recent months.
In light of the circumstances, McPherson cautions that, in its absence, US companies such as ExxonMobil are still required to adhere to some levels of transparency, since they are accountable to their shareholders as publicly traded companies.
Meanwhile, David Holukoff, another of the eminent international panellists in Guyana for the two-day confab, also sought to weigh in on the need for there to be leadership at the very top in the fight against corruption in public office.
He drew reference to the inaugural address by Bahamian Prime Minister, Hubert Minnis, to the opening ceremony of the 38th Conference of Heads of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM)
In his address, Prime Minister Minnis had cautioned that government ministers found to be accepting bribes and other payments as part of any corrupt practice will be fired immediately.
According to Holukoff, the fight against corruption in public office in oil rich countries is not just about having laws in place, since loopholes will always be found.
He said, “It’s a lot about the will and leadership from the top, and a willingness for them to accept corruption and chase after and get rid of bad players.”
According to the Canada-based oil and gas expert, it was refreshing to hear “a leader in the region talk so openly about it, with apparent conviction.”
Moderator for the panel discussion, Dr Perry Stanilas, was quick to also point out that it must be borne in mind that some governments can speak with proverbial forked tongues, and are often times coerced by powerful multi-national companies. This, he said, underscores even further the role of civil society and a free press in the protection against the resource curse that comes with commercial oil production in developing countries such as Guyana.