Jagdeo, Norton at odds on reduced Natural Resource Fund oversight committee

Last Updated on Sunday, 26 December 2021, 17:36 by Denis Chabrol

Mr. Aubrey Norton Mr. Bharrat Jagdeo

Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo and Leader of the People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR), Aubrey Norton are odds over the proposed drastic reduction of a parliamentary oversight committee of Guyana’s oil earnings.

Mr. Norton said the 22-member broad-based Public Accountability and Oversight Committee provided for in the existing Natural Resource Fund Act represents many interests  to ensure that the oil revenues are not spent willy-nilly but in critical areas for Guyana’s development.

The new Natural Resource law that has been tabled would provide for a nine-member oversight committee, something that the PNCR Leader said indicated that the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) administration “does not like systems of control.” “They do not believe that people should be involved in what happens with the oil money,” he said, adding that his party would be opposing those amendments on the need for the creation of inter-generational wealth from the oil and gas sector. He accused the Irfaan Ali administration of setting the stage for  the PPP “hustlers” to “loot” and “pillage” the oil revenues by amending the Bill.

The existing 22-member Public Accountability and Oversight Committee provides for representatives of civil-society, women and youth- all to be nominated by a consortium of civil-society organisations and community-based
organisations; Bar Associations of Guyana; Guyana Consumers Association; Guyana Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative; Transparency Institute of Guyana Inc;; Guyana Press Association; the most representative associations of trade unions; Institute of Chartered Accountants of Guyana; Private Sector Commission; one representative from each of the 10 Regional Councils and a nominee from academia nominated by the governing council of the University of Guyana.

But the new Natural Resources Fund Bill provides for a nine-member Public Accountability and Oversight Committee whose members would be one from  the National Assembly, three from the religious community, two from the private sector, two from organised labour; and one representative of the professions.

Speaking at a breakfast in honour of the Private Sector Commission, Mr. Jagdeo said that many of  the 22-member parliamentary oversight committee in the existing National Resource Fund Act are virtually non-existent organisations without any constituency. “It’s almost impossible to have an oversight body with 22 members in civil society  and we have replaced it now with about nine or ten persons from parliament so that the opposition has an input,” he said.

The Bill does not specifically state that the opposition will be represented on the parliamentary oversight committee, but the  Leader of the Opposition will be entitled to nominate a representative to the Investment Committee.

The Investment Committee and the Minister of Finance would be required to submit reports to the  National Assembly, he said, adding that the opposition would be represented in the Investment Committee and parliamentary debate for expenses.

In singling out the Policy Development Forum’s petition to the National Assembly to stop the debate and passage of the Natural Resource Fund Bill, he said the petitioners were politicians and others were members of “straw organisations”.

He singled out the private sector and labour organisations as “key stakeholders” with constituencies, unlike those that do not have constituencies and the elected government but are much more vocal and are taken seriously in Guyana and overseas. “Often, they help to create that international view of the country which is far from the reality of the actual situation in our country and they can influence not just the path of development but the environment in which we grow,” he said.

The existing Natural Resource Fund Act, he said, gives the Finance Minister direct oversight over the fund and he names and appoints the chairman of the macroeconomic committee and he puts together the fiscal committee and is solely responsible for determining how much money can be withdrawn. Instead, Mr. Jagdeo said the new system would allow for the “most transparent system” to transfer funds.

In the new Bill, he said the President rather than the Minister of Finance would be responsible for naming a Board to manage the Fund.  That Board, he said, would include a representative of the private sector and the involvement of the parliament.

Seeking to fend off claims that the Irfan Ali-led administration would raid the Natural Resource Fund, Mr Jagdeo said “every cent” that would be used to finance projects would be included in the National Budget and would be debated in the National Assembly. “Every single activity that will be financed  by money flowing into the budget will now be debated in the National Assembly so the Opposition will have Parliamentary oversight over the expenditure,” he said.

The Vice President urged the PSC not to support government slavishly but assess where things work in its favour and make its voice heard.