OPINION: Alistair Routledge: Exxon’s spinmeister, master defender of the company’s faith

Last Updated on Sunday, 24 September 2023, 10:17 by Denis Chabrol

by GHK Lall

I will say this loud and clear: daily I get a fuller appreciation as to why Exxon selected Mr. Alistair Routledge to be its Country Head in Guyana.  I understand also why Mr. Rod Henson had to go -too receptive and too flexible.  Now, with that said, I refocus on Mr. Routledge, and all that he brings to the table, half of which Guyanese have not encountered yet, in all their nuanced sophistications.  If nothing else, Mr. Routledge reminds me of smooth American corporate speak, and also the apparent tricky (forked) tongue, with which the White man has enunciated, whenever the treasure of others is involved.  Just check with Native Americans for confirmation, and that’s just for starters.

On this matter of US$214 million in disputed (now disturbing) audit expenses, Mr. Routledge was the epitome of reassuring suavity: “Our experience is that typically, very few, if any, costs are ultimately rejected, reflecting the integrity and quality of our accounting activities.”  On behalf of all Guyana, a word of gratitude is extended to Mr. Routledge for his first terse verbal venture into this audit matter turned fiasco turned scandal turned mystery.  On that glossed over aspect of “typically, very few…costs are ultimately rejected”, apparently Mr. Routledge conveniently forget that the GRA had more that US$214 million as its findings, and as driven by its own work.  Therefore, “very few” is stretching the limits of the language, and straining credibility.  It pushes audit findings, Mr. Routledge, further into the murkiness that has plagued oil matters in Guyana, and with Exxon as stellar, superpower, partner.

Regarding Mr. Routledge’s self-congratulatory posture projected in the words “reflecting the integrity and quality of our accounting activities” I humbly offer this contradiction to the Country Head: since accounting integrity and quality are so high, sir, why is it that these are shrouded in impenetrable blankets of secrecy?  How is it, Mr. Country Head, that the Government of Guyana is so petrified over releasing all Exxon-related expenses involving other oil projects?  What is there to fear when accounting integrity and quality are of such immaculacy?  Mr. Routledge should know that his company’s partner, CEO John Hess, has more than once spoken glowingly of how democracy is at such a high watermark, thanks to the pristine majesty of the PPP Government.  Country Head Routledge should also know that democracy and secrecy are archenemies: the former is heroic, the latter villainous.  So, how about those expenses allegedly hidden from Guyanese, Mr. Routledge?  

There is nothing that could be more representative of “good faith” than that, Mr. Routledge.  And, now given this revelation of Exxon always acting in “good faith”, why was Exxon’s people communicating with Ministry of Natural Resources people, when the parameters were clearly set as to who were/are the sole points of contact, the sole points of action and decision?  Mr. Alistair Routledge, that is not good faith conduct.  And one more thing, Mr. Alistair Routledge, you are not Alistair Cooke, and this is not Masterpiece Theater.  This is the theater of a poor country’s dream, its people’s aspirations.

Since the Exxon Guyana Country Head has brought up good faith, he has opened the door.  I regret to inform him that the record of his company’s conduct has not been of impeccable good faith.  In his (and my) own United States, the State of California has now exposed to the world what Exxon knew about climate change, and what it did to conceal and repeal the truths of science-based narratives.  I will spare Mr. Routledge, Guyana’s trusted and good faith partner, from a repetition of any litany of the machinations that have been placed on the head of Exxon.  About its books and records.  About its stratagems and subterfuges.  About its leaders’ actions to protect the corporate franchise by any means necessary, using any sordid people and practices to gain the day, both inside of the US, and also beyond its boundaries.  If what Exxon did in the US is its interpretation of what is sublime, and what Mr. Routledge labels as “good faith” with this audit in Guyana, then I am the Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court.

Instead of breaking silence, Exxon’s Mr. Routledge would have better served his company’s interests by maintaining silence.  Instead of clearing the air, all that this great American did was insert more covertness and cloudiness into the atmosphere and proceedings.  For when Exxon (Mr. Routledge) could assert, pursuant to Article 23 and Annex C of the 2016 PSA that, “we have acted in good faith and co-operated with the government…” it was onto to something, with specific emphasis on that word “co-operated.”  Yessir! But who and why and how?  And especially when that was not part of the official audit program, and Exxon should have known better?  Utilizing back channels is not operating “good faith” and “co-operated with the government” can now be seen in an ugly light, and what has come to place a blight on this audit.  Have a blessed Sabbath, Mr. Routledge.  Say a prayer for me, please.