… seeks clarification on Petroleum Act
In the name of accountability and transparency, Transparency Institute Guyana Inc (TIGI) is calling on the Government to publish the contract drafts and make the negotiations accountable to Parliament that it has with all oil companies, including US-oil giant ExxonMobil.
TIGI said in a statement on Wednesday that if the Government decides to move in this direction, then Guyanese of the Diaspora, whose knowledge is vast in this area, will be able to make contributions to the process and thus protect the country’s interest.
The body highlighted that there has been growing calls for disclosure of the contract with ExxonMobil and its partners, but each time this comes up, there is a refrain from the Government.
One reason used is that full disclosure would not be to the national benefit or the national interest. But TIGI said there are multiple reasons why these contracts should be made public.
The organisation cited a few examples including an article by the Natural Resource Charter, which states that the authorities should make available data and reports on licences, geological surveys, cadastres and reserves, as well as economic, environmental and social impact assessments. Critically, authorities should also publish contracts and make them readily available online.
TIGI also made reference to a statement made by the founder of Transparency International, Peter Eigen, who was quoted in the UK Guardian as saying that although companies have the right to secrecy when contracting with each other, different rules have to apply when a Government is party to a contract and that confidentiality clauses are often overprotective and must be subject to scrutiny.
The organisation said that it is not convinced with the argument that national security serves as another reason for the non-disclosure of the contract. “First of all, it is near impossible to undervalue the amount of the oil potential that has already been disclosed to the public, by the international press and in investment circles,” the statement said.
The Government’s willingness to ignore the mountain of evidence against contract secrecy and the potential ills associated with a developing oil industry is baffling, TIGI said.
Meanwhile, the organisation said corruption is not the only problem Guyana has to worry about when dealing with oil companies, but it must bear in mind that the country is relatively small and is negotiating with a titan like Exxon.
In looking at the Petroleum Exploration and Production Act, TIGI said that there might be a serious obstacle to disclosure embedded in governing law, because Chapter 65:10 seems to provide a built-in secrecy clause.
It states that no information furnished, or information in a report submitted, pursuant to this Act by a licensee shall be disclosed to any person who is not a Minister, a public officer or an employee of the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission except with the consent of the licensee. Any person, who discloses information in contravention of that requirement, could be liable to a fine of $75,000 and imprisonment for three years.
“This clause was inserted in 1997 and its application would mean that (a) all the information released to the public is what the oil companies now talking to GoG want released. We are not clear on whether this applies to the contract and hereby specifically ask this of the GOG.”
The organisation pointed out that it is concerned about the very existence of this confidentiality clause and would want to know whether the nation can expect to see it removed in the revised act which is due shortly.