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OPINION: Payara required an engineering rocket scientist, we got a politically connected regulator

Last Updated on Monday, 17 August 2020, 20:44 by Denis Chabrol

by GHK Lall

I break my peace to share that, in the choice of Ms. Alison Redford, QC, fallen ex-premier, perennial regulator, and current World Bank Advisor, the PPP government continued the insulting of Guyanese by political governors.  For when the government agrees (kowtows) to such a presence, it sells citizens out.  In fact, Guyanese are sold a pig in a bag, and pushed to accept a political player when what it needs is the equivalent of an engineering rocket scientist.  I elaborate.

The Payara project review is pivotal to placing Guyana in a knowledgeable and powerful position to dictate the management and control of its oil endowment, and to carve out its rightful destiny.  Country and citizens need the best; political leaders need the best possible guidance that money can buy, and which must come in the form of a world class authority, and not some political regular, who knows the right people and is recognized by them as a golden child.  In effect, in Ms. Redford’s presence, I see not a performer, but a player.  I say this because I take issue with the Canadians paying for the Payara review services of one of their own.  I do not regard such well; and though we need the financial hand, I would insist that we foot the bill, on this one, even if we are forced to borrow.  It buys some level of independence and confidence that what we get is what we paid for, what we oversee closely and wisely.  I offer the latter because of what we have been through with ExxonMobil, and on which I share something else.

The consultant is reported to have had difficulty with CDN$45,000 in expenses related to attending Nelson Mandela’s funeral, which caused her political downfall.  There were other concerns.  This can be problematic for Guyana, which has its many struggles with such issues with government not trusted and watched like a hawk; while anything related to our oil assumes automatically the worst misgivings, especially when the answers expected are not forthcoming.  It is why I say only the immaculate will pass muster.  And in this regard, rather regrettably, Ms. Redford falls short.

Like the tobacco industry, Exxon has expended much resources to influence academics, institutions, think tanks, and a host of others to proselytize on its behalf and to generate authoritative positions on controversial and clashing circumstances to its satisfaction climate realities is but one example.  From Exxon’s perspective, Guyana is no exception and, given what is involved and where things could lead, the company would leave no stone unturned to get its way.  It has a history of moving mountains that stand in its way.  I fear danger.

On the separate issue of big power interests, I present this unwelcome reminder.  The advanced countries are about their own interests first, with America in front, and Canada a part of the club, even if its role is that of proxy.  In the gift of Ms. Redford, I sense not a hobby horse, but a lame duck.  So, when an Alison Redford is foisted upon the Guyana government, what surfaces is not the friendship of democratic partnership in elections, but the quid pro quo (marker cashed) of this reportedly tainted ex-premier, who I am almost certain knows less of petroleum technical and engineering than me.  It is why I think there was the ready acquiescence (“kowtow” mentioned earlier) of the PPP government to the recommendation of Ms. Redford.  She is of no use to us; I have none for her.  We need a thoroughbred to sift through the oil fields, we got a turtle that is a nonstarter.

Yes, I appreciate that she will be buttressed by a team of experts, but she has to understand completely the scope of the review, the intricacies of it, and the jargons and conclusions of it, to be in a position to make recommendations to the Guyana government.  Because her political history stands, anything that she delivers is doubly doubted and second-guessed, as to credibility, authenticity, and reliability.  We cannot afford this risk.

This is disappointing coming so soon from the new people.  To hark back to pre-2015, in Ms. Redford, there are shades of one Fip Motilal and Amaila Falls (which coincidentally just got reincarnated).  This country is fighting an uphill battle to get its fair share from its oil wealth.  That has not been forthcoming, with harsh prices paid and painful lessons learned.  The new people were in the forefront to rail against the huge financial defeats inflicted.  Now they must deliver and not walk back all that hard talk (Chris Ram, hope you are reading) to continue the litany of political surrenders.

If the new political leaders are serious about extracting the most from our oil, then Payara is the moment of test.  If they are honest about maximizing benefits for all citizens, then Ms. Redford is the poorest choice.  And if the same political commanders are genuine about, and to be trusted with, prudent management of Guyana’s oil blessing, then the sole option is to recognize the wrong road taken with this compromised Canadian consultant and start over with someone else.  Someone who is of impeccable and more persuasive pedigree.  That I can support.