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Laws alone will not fight corruption, symposium on Public Corruption and the Curse of Oil hears

Vicky Mc Pherson making a point at the workshop in Guyana.

As Guyana prepares to enact a raft of laws to govern several aspects of the oil and gas industry, an American legal expert on the sector on Thursday said much would depend on the integrity of public officials, a vigilant press and a public that demands transparency.

“You can have all of the laws and regulations in place but if you don’t have the leadership and the personal conviction, quite frankly, to not steal from the public coffers none of this matters,” Vicky McPherson, a shareholder in the Washington, D.C. office of Greenberg Traurig, LLP, said.

She is in Guyana for a two-day symposium in Georgetown, Guyana on “Public Corruption and the Curse of Oil: Lessons from Developing Countries.”

Mc Pherson highlighted the importance of an “active and vocal” civil society in the development of the oil and gas industry and whether the press would report its findings. “If those key factors are in place here in Guyana, you can escape the curse but you will still have, unfortunately, incidents of corruption because at the end of the day it’s a personal decision each person, who would touch this contractual that is going to be put in place, to decide whether they are going to benefit personally,” she said.

The attorney-at-law, whose practice focuses on commercial transactions in the private and state sectors, highlighted the importance of ordinary citizens to demand transparency in the award of contracts so that no one benefits personally.

Public Private Partnerships

She echoed the views of several experts including United States diplomats here that large numbers of Guyanese would not be employed by the capital intensive oil sector. Mc Pherson said the government should, however, have more money to develop infrastructure through a public private partnership framework including contract and procurement reviews.

The American lawyer, who advises state owned enterprises concerning public private partnerships to develop the country’s natural resources, recommended that new approaches be taken to scrutinizing bids. “The best case is when you actually separately review the financial proposal and the technical proposal. They are submitted literally in separate envelopes. They are reviewed by a separate group of people and they are scored and low cost is the worst,” she said.

She frowned on the awarding of contracts on the basis of low cost because the government would ultimately not get the best product. She said separate reviews would most likely lead to better results for the government.

Trinidad  and Tobago Chartered Surveyor, Afral Raymond and real estate expert singled out transparency in Jamaica’s procurement system, saying that country’s Contractor General produces an annual report containing every contract with the Jamaican government including a “wealth of detail” in diagrams, charts and photographs of failed projects as well as investigations. He said similar information is available in searchable databases on the Jamaica Contractor General’s website. “We have a stereotype about Jamaica being criminal, about Jamaica being dis-organised, about Jamaica being lawless, about Jamaica being unruly. This is actually the report of their Contractor General in my hand,” Raymond said. He said there is no such system available in Trinidad and Tobago, and the Jamaica model should be replicated across the Caribbean.

Guyana is currently preparing to enact laws for a Petroleum Commission, Sovereign Wealth Fund, and a Local Content mechanism