Home Letters TIGI column on oil block investigation misleading
The two recent columns produced by TIGI and published in the Stabroek News have featured attention-grabbing headlines; but after unpacking the lengthy sections of legal jargon and quotations, I still struggle to see any clear-cut case of illegal activity being made.
I would be the first to admit that I have no legal training, meaning that TIGI’s columns make for some very thick reading; but I believe I can distill everything down to two points, in layman’s terms 1): The then minister responsible for petroleum does not have proper “discretion” to grant blocks the size of the Stabroek, except under “special circumstances”; and 2): the “special circumstances” the Government has used to defend the award do not meet that definition.
If this is an accurate summary of the argument, and I believe it is, then I have to confess that I do not see TIGI’s legal case. Everything seems predicated on an opinion or judgment call, rather than on clear-cut legal wrongdoing.
Take the argument concerning “discretion.” TIGI cites lengthy statements from legal scholars, yet nothing I have read clearly shows that any violation of that discretion occurred. The problem is that it’s all about how you interpret the language, specifically the “special circumstances” provision, which seemingly allows for a broad range of undefined discretionary activities.
The most recent column illustrates this clearly. TIGI included various quotes given in different contexts. All of these statements essentially say the same thing: “discretionary doesn’t actually mean discretionary.” ‘He said’, ‘she said’ is dangerous ground for legal arguments, though.
TIGI’s contention that the security situation regarding Venezuela did not, and does not, constitute a “special circumstance” is susceptible to the same problem.
Ultimately, the letter of the law allows the minister to make that decision. TIGI may have an opinion on the status of Guyana’s national security at any given time, but its opinion alone does not determine what is legal or illegal.
The question I cannot stop asking myself is: If TIGI is confident that it has an airtight legal case, why isn’t that body making the case in court? It’s fine to publish the columns and state opinions, but why isn’t TIGI moving to bring any legal case? Is it perhaps because there is no case to bring?
TIGI is meant to be a transparency watchdog. It is tasked with sniffing out corruption and seeking greater openness in governance. Its columns in the Stabroek News to date seem to veer away from encouraging greater transparency and towards an agenda focused on political and legal advocacy. That’s fine, but TIGI should be clear with the public that it’s now pushing an agenda, and not simply calling for greater transparency.