The coalition A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) Government has in recent weeks been deliberately and dishonestly setting out to suppress the disclosure of the contractual arrangement signed onto with US oil giant ExxonMobil.
These were the views espoused by former President now Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo when he met Thursday with members of the local media corps for a press engagement.
According to the Opposition Leader, the national security issues raised by spokespersons of the Government as a reason for withholding the contractual arrangements are nothing but a ‘red herring’ since the delineation of the exploration bloc and other such information are already public knowledge and do not conflict with any of the border issues currently engaging the attention of the Administration.
He denounced too as blatant dishonesty the resort of those in Government to seek to hide behind the petroleum legislation which was in fact signed into law by then President Hugh Desmond Hoyte, of the People’s National Congress (PNC).
ExxonMobil, for its part, has publicly adopted the position that it would abide by the laws of the country and according to Jagdeo, nothing in the Petroleum Act prevents the disclosure of the contract.
He was questioned on what appeared to be his changing position on the matter, but reminded that it was normal for such information, considered proprietary at the time of negotiations, to be withheld.
According to the Opposition Leader, now that the negotiations have been completed and a contract inked, there is nothing preventing the release of the contractual agreements and obligations to the wider public.
Looking to expose the fallacies being peddled by the Administration, Jagdeo pointed to public reports primarily in the Kaieteur News.
He pointed to a report attributed to Minister Raphael Trotman that an amendment to the Petroleum Laws by Jagdeo has in fact prevented the disclosure.
Jagdeo used the opportunity to remind that in 1997 he was not President and was further not in charge of that sector which fell under the purview of then President Samuel Hinds. There were two amendments to the Principal Act of 1986, one in 1992 and one in 1997.
He pointed too to reports attributed to the AFC component of the coalition, saying that these also represented dishonesty on the part of the Administration.
According to the Opposition Leader, the Government has been arguing that it was the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) that amended the laws, ‘and because they have to respect the sanctity of contracts and that’s the law, they cannot release the contract, that it is the PPP to be blamed for us to be in this situation’.
He drew reference, too, to what the AFC officials have called strict non-disclosure clauses in the laws which were signed into effect by the PPP/C.
According to Jagdeo, there were two amendments inked by the PPP/C, neither of which had anything to do with disclosure of information.
The Opposition Leader was adamant that the disclosure clauses embedded in the petroleum laws do not speak to the contract but rather the release of proprietary information – clauses that were brought into force by Hoyte even before the PPP/C had been voted into office.
Among the amendments promulgated successfully were one by Hoyte which dealt with the assignment of responsibilities and another by Samuel Hinds which spoke to increased penalties for breaches of the laws.
“It has nothing to do with non-disclosure clause,” Jagdeo insisted.
He told media operatives that the AFC arm of the coalition, inclusive of substantive Minister Raphael Trotman, “have fooled this country, have been dishonest with the country to say that the PPP put in place a non-disclosure clause and as a result of that they can’t release this contract…that has been their mantra, they said it publicly….they are lying.”
He suggested that if those officials were that incompetent so as to not read the Petroleum Act or to act in such a partisan fashion, “then how can they competently negotiate with ExxonMobil, one wonders why all of these excuses”.
The Opposition Leader was adamant that based on his Party’s interpretation of the existing laws, they did not speak to the non-disclosure of the contract.
Jagdeo suggested that the laws did, in fact, provide for the release of information.
“Our interpretation is that this Act only protects proprietary information and that is normal because you cannot allow people to be at the competitive disadvantage.”
Jagdeo suggested this as the reason the PPP/C was demanding the release of all oil-related contracts inked and not just the agreement with ExxonMobil.
“For months they have thrived on two lies: that the PPP put in place a non-disclosure agreement that prohibits them from making the contract available to the public and secondly, that for some national security reason, they cannot release the contract.”