‘We are ready to defend our track record’ …Jagdeo says of oil blocks probe

PPP General Secretary, Dr Bharrat Jagdeo

…but favours reputable int’l agency to conduct investigation instead of SARA 

Opposition Leader Dr Bharrat Jagdeo

Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo said the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) will support any investigation into the award of oil blocks under its regime but only if it is being done by a reputable international firm and not the Clive Thomas-led State Assets Recovery Agency (SARA).

Professor Thomas had recently disclosed that the Agency has been looking into the award of the blocks by the Donald Ramotar-led Administration before the 2015 General and Regional elections.

Professor Clive Thomas

According to Jagdeo, however, while they welcome such probes, it cannot be done by SARA.

“You need an international organisation that has a well-known record of established transparency and has investigated this sort of thing. So if the Government wants to do that, the Government should hire a solid international firm with a reputation and not have Clive Thomas do this, who is a member of their party… We will support it but hire an impartial group to do it. SARA is pro-Government. All of the people at SARA are (political). You can’t have an impartial investigation,” the Opposition Leader insisted.

Jagdeo, who is also the General Secretary of the PPP/Civic, further told reporters at his weekly press conference on Thursday that his party had nothing to hide regarding such a probe.

“We have no problem with such an investigation but for any investigations into the award of oil and gas contracts, what took place at the negotiation, etc for that investigation to have credibility, you can’t have SARA do it… Do an impartial investigation, the PPP has nothing to hide and we are willing to defend our track record. We will participate in that… (because) I’m not worried…,” he asserted.

On May 22, an article appeared in the New York-based Bloomberg website, in which the SARA Director was quoted confirming that there was a probe ongoing. According to Thomas, the probe was in its early stages and would be centred on the award of blocks and licences to ExxonMobil and Tullow.

Thomas was quoted by Bloomberg as saying “we’re investigating the issuance of the licences, for example, and the various blocks. We’re building up a case. This is an area of investigation into how the blocks were allocated and the decisions that were made.”

“We’re at an investigatory stage so we can’t libel persons by saying that we found proof of anything. There’s enough evidence for us to want to continue the investigation,” the article also quoted him saying.

However, Jagdeo pointed out that for years there was no willingness to probe any other areas that the public and stakeholders were asking for such as renegotiation of contracts, yet suddenly they are investigating what took place under the PPP regime.

In fact, Jagdeo further outlined that they had refused too to honour a request by the Transparency International Guyana Inc (TIGI) to recover the US$18 million signing bonus that the coalition Government secretly collected and stashed in an account at the Bank of Guyana instead of the Consolidated Fund as required by law.

Meanwhile, the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry on (GCCI) Wednesday said this investigation being undertaken by SARA can harm Guyana by discouraging potential investors from vying for future oil blocks.

At a press conference, head of the GCCI’s Petroleum arm, Charles Ramson, expressed worry over the impact these revelations would have on Guyana’s image especially since the article appeared in Bloomberg, which meant that thousands in the global business community would have read this unsavoury news.

“It’s dangerous for our investment climate, destroys investor confidence and it creates that level of uncertainty that we don’t need right now. We haven’t produced a drop as yet. And you already want to send bad signals to the international community? It’s highly improper, irregular and totally disturbing.”

Meanwhile, GCCI President Nicholas Boyer decried the haphazard way in which the investigation is being done. He also noted that the investigation is being done at a time when much of the regulatory framework for the industry has not even been set up.

“At this point I think we’re shooting in the dark. I think SARA is wasting its time because of the lack of having a petroleum commission in place, lack of policies saying how it’s going to issue future blocks and approach relinquishment.”

The Stabroek Block is 6.6 million acres (26,800 square kilometres). ExxonMobil affiliate, Esso Exploration and Production Guyana Limited, is operator and holds 45 per cent interest in the Stabroek Block. Hess Guyana Exploration Ltd holds 30 per cent interest and CNOOC Petroleum Guyana Limited, a wholly-owned subsidiary of CNOOC Limited, holds 25 per cent interest.