Nigel Hughes will not leave law firm now, despite conflict of interest concerns with oil sector

Last Updated on Sunday, 30 June 2024, 17:26 by Writer

Managing Partner of Hughes, Fields and Stoby, Attorney-at-Law, Nigel Hughes.

Leader of the Alliance For Change (AFC), Nigel Hughes on Sunday said he would not break ties from his law firm – Hughes, Fields and Stoby – which represents ExxonMobil unless he is elected to the government.

“No, no! This issue really only arises if and when I become President or acquire a position of power because, then, I’m in a position to influence government policy, they can claim. Right now, I can’t influence government and, therefore, it’s a theoretical conflict,” he told Demerara Waves Online News. He agreed that if he is becomes the President, he could not be with HFS which has been representing companies since 2008. “If I were ever elected President, I would have nothing to do with the firm. I wouldn’t be participating in their management or decision-making but until then,” he said.

Asked what would happen if he has to draft a contract or represent ExxonMobil or any other oil and gas sector company in a court case that might go against the grain of the welfare and interest of Guyanese who he is representing Guyana politically, he said that was “precisely” why he would not be participating in any oil and gas sector discussions at the party in the interest of his client. “You seriously couldn’t be asking me to compromise my client’s integrity because the interest of Guyana is at stake because I happen to be the leader of a political party,” he said.

Put to the prominent Guyanese criminal and civil lawyer whether he would sign off on a contract or argue in a court case that would deprive Guyana of at least 0.1 US cent that could benefit Guyanese, he said: “If you hired me in a case against the government of Guyana and you’re going to get an advantage to the disadvantage to the citizens, are you saying I should compromise the quality of advice I give to you and the quality of representation I give to you because Guyana is on the other side? That can’t be right. You’re putting any professional in a position where they have to make a biased decision and they will not be giving their clients the best possible legal service which they are hired to do,” he said.

The best approach, according to the AFC leader, was to find a way of separating law and politics and not participate on behalf of any political decision-making.

Mr Hughes also said before the next election the AFC would set up an oil and gas committee of party and non-party advisors to keep him at arms length from the sector and commit to abiding by decisions made by that body. “Where there are cases that involve the oil companies, I will not have anything to do with the political position of the Alliance For Change. I will not participate in those discussions. Those discussions will be made entirely by a separate body,” Mr Hughes said. Mr Hughes ruled out advising the AFC on oil and gas “at all” and a committee would do so “independently of what I have to say.” Mr Hughes also said he would not be speaking on the oil sector on the AFC’s political platform.

Remarking that the issue of conflict of interest “becomes an issue when elected”, he said if he becomes the President of Guyana, the government would set up an independent commission that would focus on Guyana’s best interest in the oil and gas sector. “In that entity would, I hope, have the best available talent that might come by so that we actually have a comprehensive board and I would be isolated from that and I would accept whatever recommendations that that committee makes in relation to oil and gas so I’ll be completely insulated,” he said.

Concerns have been raised by at least two pro- and anti-government commentators about Mr Hughes’ conflict of interest as a lawyer and whose law firm represents clients in the oil sector. HFS also has an office in Houston, Texas, United States.

Political commentator and newspaper columnist, Gabriel Lall suggested that for the just-minted AFC Leader to secure broad-based, overwhelming national support, he would have to cut all professional ties with ExxonMobil. “Mr. Hughes cannot have his feet in two boats at the same time. He cannot raise his hand to stand as a presidential candidate – a consensus one-for the Guyanese electorate, while his head and his voice are for Exxon. The two are simply incompatible, locally unmanageable and, from this negligible corner, unacceptable,” said Mr Lall, an opposition sympathiser and former Wall Street analyst, in his most recent column on Demerara Waves Online News.

For his part, Financial Analyst Joel Bhagwandin weighed in on what he also sees as conflict of interest on the part of Mr Hughes and his law firm . “It would be absolutely and dangerously unethical for the law firm that Mr. Hughes is affiliated with, to continue its provision of legal services to EMGL (ExxonMobil Guyana Limited) and all other oil and gas companies. It would be outrageously unacceptable if he continues to do so,” said Mr Bhagwandin whose writings lean heavily on the side of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP).

Mr Hughes has been representing people from across the political divide ranging from Volda Lawrence of the People’s National Congress Reform to Mr Nigel Dharamlall of the PPP.