OPINION: A petroleum proposal of my own: depoliticize any petroleum body

Last Updated on Wednesday, 9 August 2023, 16:17 by Denis Chabrol

by GHK Lall

I thought that an invitation was the next best thing for politicians in the PPP and PNC, since I don’t challenge leaders and ministers and legislators anymore.  The PPP Government came up at long last with its draft oil law, which is a good development.  Yesterday, the Opposition trotted out its draft amendment proposals, also a positive thing.  In both the PPP’s draft law (bill, really), and the Opposition (PNC, surely) draft amendments, there are elements which are liked and supported.  Provisions that involve royalties, expenses, and so on, which are several notches above where we are.  Let us face it, any petroleum draft law that leaves us close to the same place should never have been conceived, never made it into the public domain.

In the next breath, there are a few provisions, though, that I have problems with, but which are left alone today, except for one.  We have to summon the courage, the confidence, and the political and individual character to put this oil on a different boil.  To give what I am about to recommend a more in-the-face intensity, we must depoliticize petroleum.  Yes, it is a derivative, but start wherever pleases, we should, we have to, and we must depoliticize petroleum.  If not, there will forever be the stormy bickering, and the bitter grappling.  Over which group has it right.  Over which leader is a blight on the birthright.  Over what practices make use of oil as a weapon of spite.

Both the PPP and PNC (and others) have to agree to stand back, stand aside, and leave a depoliticized petroleum agency to stand alone with power and authority, as vested in its members by law.  It cannot be like one of those recently sworn in Service Commissions that gives the distinctive jaggedness of a numerical edge for the PPP Government.  Put differently, install four Freedom House operators on a Service Commission, and the result is a Freedom House annex.

This calculation and vision cannot, must never be, part of a petroleum body with proper autonomy and oversight authority.  Like the Federal Reserve Bank governors of the US, they are appointed by politicians, but they [the governors] do not have to agree with the expectations, or fulfill the ambitions, of those who placed them [politicians] where they are.  We don’t strive for such an independent and neutral body in this country, and we are as good as dead, and heading down that path of no return.  Just a matter of time, and circumstances that can’t be borne or tolerated any longer.

Two issues or questions are sure to stir Guyanese.  First, where to get Guyanese who are not so beholden, so subservient to the PPP and PNC that there can be confidence that those chosen to serve on a national petroleum entity would serve with diligence, grit, and principle?  The second issue, perhaps no less thorny, is how do we, could we ever, get both the PPP and PNC (and all the others with a say) to agree on this my own proposal?  No Guyanese should need any reintroduction to the nagging and dragging issue involving the Chancellor of the Judiciary and Chief Justice.  I took the liberty of leaving out ‘acting’, which insults all of us, and none more than women.  Men rendered impotent by fear and a flurry of calculations, and condemning both the judiciary and women to the worst speculations, reputations.

If neither the PPP nor the PNC can put the nation ahead of their visions of how things should be, and what could be, with the top layer of the judiciary, then there is scant hope when so many billions in money from the national patrimony are on the table.  I cringe at the thought of a Bharrat Jagdeo engineered petroleum agency (cut the foolishness, please about subject minister).  Similarly, I go down on record as distancing from an Aubrey Norton, or Khemraj Ramjattan, arranged petroleum body.

A true and trusted, proven through crucibles of trial, petroleum group of patriotic Guyanese have to be extracted from civil society the diaspora, and watchdog presences in Guyana.  Though civil society can tilt like an over-inebriated sailor, I have to apply the invitation extended to the PPP and PNC to myself.  Meaning, trust others to do what is best for country and citizens.  All of them, and not just one section of the country’s demographics, or just a thin slice of that favored grouping.  Also, though genuinely patriotic Guyanese are a fast-dying breed, I will bite the bullet and say that they are around, and can be found.  If local politicians really want to what is right by this oil, and right by every Guyanese, then they will find them.

Depoliticizing petroleum means that Guyanese politicians must willingly participate in denuding themselves.  It is a tough proposal, a tall order.  There is movement, agreement, on this, and I will be the first to give a listening to their representations on many other things about this oil.  This is not a draft, it is final.