kaieteur news  Nov 21, 2017  News

 By Abena Rockcliffe-Campbell

The government’s oblivion with regards to the nation’s concerns over the developing oil and gas industry is causing many to think that the anti-corruption and pro-transparency stance it took was merely a veneer used to gain the people’s trust.
President of Transparency Institute Guyana Incorporated (TIGI), Dr. Troy Thomas is one who shares that opinion.
Calls have been made for the government to do more for protection of the environment against oil companies. Those calls went on deaf ears. The government literally paid no mind. More than that, there have been calls for the release of the contract. Those calls too have been ignored. However, in this case, at least the government said why it will not release the contract.
The two main reasons offered were that the law says that such contracts must be confidential and that the contract can be used against Guyana by Venezuela.
During an interview with Kaieteur News, Dr. Thomas said that the government will likely pay the price for not taking heed of the people’s concerns. He said that the first consequence would be a loss of confidence.
“Confidence in government will take a hit. This is a contract with the people, so we would expect it to be released for the people to know what it holds. The fact that the contract is being kept a secret leaves citizens to wonder what it is trying to hide.
He said that the government has promised wealth from oil revenues. But, “to what extent can we believe that oil will deliver wealth for Guyana when we cannot see what is going on in the contract. To what extent would it mean a better quality of life for Guyanese? Seeing the contract can help us believe, it will tell us what to expect.”
He said that in the meantime, Guyanese are being asked to blindly trust the government.
But we do not have enough examples of that going well in this country for people to just want to do that. So I think confidence in government will take a hit, and when that happens, the people will not allow you to proceed with governance.”
Dr. Thomas said that people will no longer hope for a better economy and better overall standard of living; they will just now look to see how they can benefit. “In a sense it is going to snowball into more and more problems.”

ROOM FOR CORRUPTION
Dr. Thomas pointed to another consequence of ignoring the calls for the release of the contract.
He said that monitoring is being restricted to a select few. This spells trouble, he added.
“I cannot now look at things and see if they are going the way it is supposed to be from a contractual standpoint. I cannot verify with certainty now whether what ExxonMobil is doing is in accordance with the contract. It just leaves more room for corrupt practices.”
Dr. Thomas said that there are indeed a few technical people within the population who can really monitor at a certain level. “But, while the masses may not be technical, the masses can bring a lot of value to the process just by being watchful. But the masses are being cut completely out that process. He said that the fact that the government is retaining the clause in the Petroleum Act that is being used to give reason to the non release of the contract says a lot.
He said that the fact that the government is not willing to amend the Act to state explicitly that all contracts should be released, “tells me that there is really no commitment to transparency as it relates to the oil industry.”
Dr. Thomas noted that Guyana has linked with the Extractive Industry Transparency Institute (EITI) is a step in the right direction.
“It is better to have EITI than not have it. By having EITI, we have a lot of things available already, but the EITI has not been able to deliver the release of the contract.”
Dr. Thomas said that it seems like the government wants to do just enough, which is simply not enough.

ADVANTAGE
Dr. Thomas said that the government is creating a condition for Guyana to be taken advantage of, largely. He said that companies operating here will capitalise on the secrecy.
“We do not know what their obligations are as regards the protection of the environment. So they will not see the need to look out for the well being of the environment.”
“When firms come here and meet a situation where government is willing to hide from its people, they will be emboldened to ask for more and more concessions. They will be willing to have clauses in contracts that they may not have had if they were going to be released.”
Dr. Thomas said that ExxonMobil is most likely happy that government is hiding the contract.
“And they will be happy to tell you that it is up to your government to deal with these things. But in the end, the government’s stance will allow these companies to do what they want. I know these companies have laws that they have to abide by back home, but we are also seeing places like the US cutting back on the restrictions.”
Dr. Thomas noted that he is indeed speculating, but asserted that he should not have to be speculating, as he should be in the know about what is happening with the nation’s resource.