…urges swift establishment of Petroleum Commission to build capacity
A former Energy Minister of Trinidad and Tobago has urged Government here to work expeditiously to set up the Petroleum Commission (PC) so that they could start building capacity in the oil and gas sector ahead of the first oil production, which is set to begin officially in 2020.
Addressing a small audience at Duke Lodge on Wednesday during a public lecture on the oil and gas sector, Kevin Ramnarine who served as a Minister on the twin-island republic for over four years said it is important because it will help the country to better prepared for this new industry.
Ramnarine was keen to state that setting up such a Commission six months before oil production begins is counterproductive and will not help to manage the sector in the way it ought to be managed. He said this Commission must be established now and strengthened right away.
According to him, Chatham House recommendations on accountability states that (oil) producers at an early stage of development of their resource base should start with one credible body, which in this case is the PC, of which the Government is already looking into establishing.
The former Trinidadian Minister noted that it is equally important that checks and balances are particularly important in small countries that have few qualified personnel to oversee the sector. With the absence of this, it could lead to just a handful of people dominating the Governance system.
Ramnarine told the audience that while credibility, intellectual capacity, resourcing and public trust in the Commission are paramount, public trust in the Commission, as well as earning respect from international oil companies and openness and transparency, are also key elements to its success.
While taking a closer look at the draft Petroleum Commission Bill, the former Energy Minister made several recommendations that could help to strengthen the Bill in its current form. One of those recommendations was to extend the life of the board beyond one year.
The reason for this, he said, was mainly because international oil companies develop relationships with these entities and the faces behind them, and over time when they remain in that post for a longer period of time, it gives these companies some level of certainty.
Another one of his recommendations was to allow the Board to appoint the Commissioner, instead of having the Minister responsible for the industry to appoint that individual. He said the same should obtain for the Secretary of the Board who he thinks should be an attorney with extensive experience at the bar. He went as far as to say that the minimum experience should be 15 years.
While there is provision within the draft bill for a member of the Parliamentary Opposition to sit on that Commission, Ramnarine said the Bill should be clearer so that they do not have to revisit the act quickly, allowing for the representative to be appointed on the written advice of the Opposition Leader.
Further, he believes that while there is provision for one individual to be recommended from civil and or academic to sit on the Board, he believes that there should be individuals from both areas. He is also of the opinion that representation from an environmental agency should also sit on that Board.
The former Trinidadian Minister didn’t stop there, he went on to state that the Board should include the Commissioner of the Lands and Surveys Commission, mainly because in composing the Board, they may want to legislate for geography and gender, as it was done in the Ghanaian model.
“Decisions should not be made only by simple majority. Majority decisions should require special majority or should require unanimous vote. The Commission should be self-funding and any surplus fund should be deposited into the Consolidated Fund,” he added.
He said in the next two years Guyana will be presented with a once in a lifetime opportunity to get it right and to create a tremendously prosperous future. It is therefore essential that Guyana gets it right from the start to avoid any difficulty down the road. “Getting it right means always doing what is in the national interest. The national interest must always win,” he posited.
The Petroleum Commission Bill was laid in the National Assembly by Natural Resources Minister Raphael Trotman during the last session. This Bill seeks to pave the way for the setting up of an agency that would manage the impending oil sector in Guyana. The Bill is now before the Special Select Committee.
The parliamentary Opposition had criticised the Bill stating that it gives the Minister too much power. Without the Board, the Minister would be granted the power to discharge the functions of the Board. The Opposition believes the Bill in its current form will not allow for the creation of an independent agency that would be able to carry out its mandate in a fair, transparent, non-discriminatory manner.