“We have to look out for Guyana” – Opposition Leader

Oil & gas development

Government has the ultimate responsibility to safeguard the country’s national interest and ensure that it benefits equally from the new oil and gas sector. However, in order to do this, they must ensure that the necessary mechanisms are in place to build local technical capacity to handle this new sector.
This is according to Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo, who said on Wednesday that there is no attempt by the current Administration to acquire these skills and the lack of transparency could mean that they are not prepared to work towards acquiring the best out of this sector for all Guyanese.
“My fear is that they will be hopelessly out manoeuvred not because ExxonMobil is a monster, but because ExxonMobil will look out for ExxonMobil and we have to look out for Guyana,” Jagdeo said while noting that if Government secures the technical expertise at all levels of this new sector, Guyana stands to benefit immeasurably from the continuing negotiations with these oil companies.
Through solid partnership, both sides are set to benefit. But Jagdeo said it must be met through solid engagement agreements. “We have to build the technical capacity to make sure that once we sign the agreement with ExxonMobil and there are agreements that can withstand international scrutiny, that we have the capacity to enforce those regulations and that agreement,” he added.
The Opposition Leader was quick to point out the magnitude of ExxonMobil’s global operation, whose earning alone would dwarf the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of many countries. “ExxonMobil may have more technical people than Caribbean countries put together. So, when we deal with a company of this nature, we have to get as many skilled people who have clarity about our negotiation, who can prepare for any negotiation and discussion,” he added.
He continued: “I don’t care what they did in Trinidad and Tobago. Once we protect our national interest, we have a duty. ExxonMobil will always look out for them but the idea is we have to look out for ourselves to get a fair share and then the partnership will run smoothly.”
But Jagdeo again stated his lack of confidence in the current members of Government being able to lead technical negotiations with the US oil giant and other major oil companies. He said, “I know lots of APNU (A Partnership for National Unity) people who may do better, but they are not given prominence, but who would do one hundred times a better job… but they are not there.”
While information about this sector has not been forthcoming, Jagdeo said in the name of transparency, Government should reveal to the Opposition who the lead negotiators for Guyana are, and what the negotiation briefs are about, so that they can share their views. He even suggested that it be discussed in small circles, through committees so that the information does not become public.

GRA unit
While recognising that Government has moved to create a special unit at the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) to deal with invoices from ExxonMobil and other oil companies in the petroleum sector, Jagdeo said this new move paints a perfect picture that Government is getting ready for the new sector, but he is of the strong opinion that it is one that does not defend the best interest of the country.
“If the GRA doesn’t even have the capacity to conduct audits on many of our businesses now, something has to be wrong. GRA is collecting our taxes. We have to have a unit that is properly staffed that has people with experience in dealing with the petroleum industry who can say this service we are buying here, we are aware that it could be competitively sourced from another place at same quality.”
Jagdeo said he had no confidence that GRA could manage this task. “They are struggling to go after people to collect Value Added Tax (VAT) and even complex local invoices they can’t handle,” he added.
“I would have preferred an industry that has long-term implications, would have been dealt with in a more apolitical fashion but when you try to raise issues of a technical nature…,” Jagdeo remarked.
He again stated reasons why the Opposition will not support the Petroleum Commission Bill stressing that it gives the Minister too much power, giving the Minister responsible for petroleum, the authority to terminate the Board of the Commission at any time. The Minister would also be granted the power to discharge the functions of the Board if the Board is not appointed.
On that basis, Jagdeo said the oil and gas model being developed by the current Administration, “will not allow us to build strong technical capacity. So that is the huge problem we have with the approach with this Government.”