…says if Govt interested in joining EITI then agreement should be made public
Economist and political commentator, Ramon Gaskin, has urged Natural Resources Minister Raphael Trotman, to release the full text of the Production Sharing Agreement with ExxonMobil, claiming that the time has come for this information to be made public.
Gaskin observed that both the current coalition Government and previous People’s Progressive Party (PPP) Government have both refused, consistently, to publish this document, but stressed the importance of having it done now, especially since production of oil and gas is expected to begin by mid-2020.
The outspoken economist argued that while Trotman claimed he could not release the contract because of restrictions placed on its release by Section 4 of the Petroleum (Exploration and Production) Act, the law does not prohibits him. In fact, Gaskin said the language of the law is clear and the Minister as a lawyer should know better than to keep “peddling inaccurate information” to the public.
“The fact of the matter is that the Minister is misleading the public while stubbornly refusing to release the contract. If the Government of Guyana is interested in joining Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative [EITI), then it must start now by publishing the deal. There is no law that prevents this,” he asserted.
Providing a breakdown of the law as it pertains to the release of this contract, Gaskin said Section Four Subsection (2) of the Act states that no information furnished or information in a report submitted pursuant to the 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. It also allows for the disclosure of information without the consent of a licensee in seven situations.
However, Gaskin argued that the Production Sharing Agreement is neither ‘information furnished’ nor ‘information in a report’. Therefore, Section 4 does not apply at all. He said Subsection (3) also speaks about a petroleum agreement, which is what the public is rightfully demanding to be published.
“These restrictions affect only the licensee; his servants or agents (not the Minister except, of course, if the said minister considers himself an agent or servant of ExxonMobil) and deal with information about “prospecting or production operations” and these restrictions have to be “specified in the agreement”. There is nothing here about restrictions on publication of the agreement,” Gaskin asserted.
The economist concluded that Government is far too secretive about matters concerning the people of Guyana, although, in all fairness to Minister Trotman, the previous Government also behaved in the same way, keeping the original contract secret since June 1999.
Trotman claimed that the position taken by him as Minister is one that is embraced by the entire Government and does not represent a singular opinion and/or position. Government has received expert opinions and advice to the effect that the terms of the agreement should not be publicised at this time as the provisions of Section 4 of the Petroleum Act, though it may appear ambiguous, should be interpreted in a manner that prevents publication.
“The Petroleum Act is currently under review for amendments and the Government will await the completion of that process, and the recommendations made, before reviewing the matter of the publication of the agreement,” Trotman said in a recent statement.
However, Gaskin termed the Minister’s response as “nonsense” stating that the release of the contract has nothing to do with timing but it has to do with the law.
Several agencies, including the Transparency International Guyana Group had repeatedly called on the Government to release the 1999 contract with ExxonMobil to prospect for oil, arguing that it would help to even the odds stacked against this country in pending negotiations.