…says ‘special circumstances’ at the time warranted the need for such actions
Opposition Leader Dr Bharrat Jagdeo, on Wednesday, staunchly defended the Petroleum Exploration License issued to ExxonMobil in 1999 under the hand of then President Janet Jagan.
The Opposition Leader was at the time responding to claims asserted by Chartered Accountant Christopher Ram, and reproduced in at least one newspaper, which pointed to some 600 petroleum exploration blocks being given to ExxonMobil.
Ram contends this contravenes the governing petroleum laws which only allow a maximum of 60 blocks.
He had rightfully indicated too that there are special circumstances provided for in the statutes and according to Jagdeo, special circumstances did exist at the time.
The Opposition Leader in defending the actions of former President Janet Jagan was adamant, “it is a fact ExxonMobil was given about 600 blocks in 1999…Let me say this country should be grateful to Janet Jagan.”
The former President said the matter has to be seen in context and pointed to the fact that there has been oil exploration in Guyana for more than a century now.
According to Jagdeo, “at that time when Janet gave these blocks out we didn’t have many takers.” He explained that with a track record of more than a century of explorations and never finding oil, Guyana was a high risk country for any investor to put money into oil exploration to the tune of hundreds of millions of US dollars.
Jagdeo opined too that the move was in fact significant from a geopolitical perspective given the renewed Venezuela claims.
According to Jagdeo, the presence of a large US based company such as ExxonMobil, located in a large offshore expanse – now claimed by Venezuela – demonstrated that the United States of America recognised the territory as sovereign to Guyana.
“We don’t have anything to hide” Jagdeo said, adding that he “believed that Janet Jagan, in own her judgment, did the right thing for geo-political reasons. And her decision led Guyana to the discovery of oil.”
Meanwhile, the Opposition Leader also used the occasion to respond to Social Activist, Christopher Ram, who has in recent days, through different mediums, accused Jagdeo of a suspect extension of the ExxonMobil Agreement in 2008, saying under the laws, the company should have had to relinquish half of what it had been granted.
Jagdeo did in fact grant the extension which included not giving up any of the blocks held by ExxonMobil and he told media operatives, “it is a fact that in 2008 I signed an extension agreement with relinquishment in it, an extension to that agreement…we don’t have anything to hide about it.”
In the agreement, ExxonMobil initially acquired the concession for four and a half years after which they would have to hand back 50 per cent.
This did not obtain, but Jagdeo has since defended his actions and pointed to when ExxonMobil invoked the force majeure clause in its agreement.
Force majeure is defined as unforeseeable circumstances that prevent someone from fulfilling a contract.
ExxonMobil invoked force majeure when neighbouring Suriname had evicted a CGX rig that was conducting explorations then in the disputed border area.
According to Jagdeo, this action by the company led to an essential halt on the operations of ExxonMobil.
Explaining why his administration did not enforce the relinquishment provisions of the agreement – forcing ExxonMobil to give up half of its petroleum blocks – Jagdeo said “when you declare force majeure it freezes everything.”
This happened in September 2000, but the matter was not resolved until almost a decade later in 2007, when a United Nation’s tribunal made a final ruling on the border dispute between Guyana and Suriname and demarcated the maritime boundary between the two countries
The then president explained that the company approached government the following year to lift the force majeure, “so none of the period between 1998 and 2008 when force majeure was lifted could you have done anything because once force majeure is in place everything freezes.”
Jagdeo said the actions led to an almost reset of initial agreement.
He lamented the almost decade long period for which the force majeure clause had been in effect.
The opposition leader noted too that when ExxonMobil found oil in commercial quantities in 2015 Guyana was de-risked meaning that investors were now looking to flock to these shores.
The former President also used the occasion to sound another alarm following the sale of major shareholdings valued millions of US dollars in an offshore oil company operating in the Orinduik Block – a concession that was issued in January 2016 by the coalition A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance for Change (APNU/AFC) Government after it took office a few months earlier.
Jagdeo was at the time on Tuesday addressing members of the local media corps and observed the sale of the shares even as he again lambasted the administration over its silence regarding the affairs of the industry and to allegations regarding companies with intrinsically linked shareholdings that ties back to ministers.
He told media operatives, “I saw an agreement that (Minister Raphael) Trotman gave being flipped now in just a matter of a year.”
The former President was making reference to news that the French owned Total E&P Activities Petrolieres signed an agreement with a shareholder in Guyana’s Orinduik Block Eco Atlantic for the tune of millions of US dollars, and is likely to see it establishing a foothold locally.
Speaking during the press engagement, the former President was adamant that Minister David Patterson is yet to respond to the claims that persons with shared links to the administration have been making application for petroleum concessions in order to flip the licenses for a profit.
Jagdeo remains adamant that the lies emanating from the Administration have been overshadowing the core issues surrounding his allegation of likely corruption.