OPINION: Nigel Hughes on oil -after his O &G committee, then to whom?

Last Updated on Sunday, 7 July 2024, 11:36 by Writer

by GHK Lall

The new AFC Leader, Mr. Nigel Hughes, is hitting some sweet notes. As much as I give him a hand, there is still that sour one hanging. Mr. Hughes has spoken of plans, of what he would do in his first 100 days if elected to Guyana’s highest national political office. Good, so far, and though only in broad outlines, they hit some key areas and pack a wallop. All eyes are on oil, and his every word is hung onto. So is he also. From my perspective, this whole business, all these post congresses developments boil down to one word: trust. If there isn’t that, then it is all for naught. And if there are few intentions to make good on commitments in these early heady days of leadership rising, then all that this – the grand plans, and lush promises – amount to is the regular speechifying of clever Guyanese political figures. Not all of them, but very close to that perfect score.

If there is one thing for which Mr. Hughes and his resurgent group (so I think, sense) should be given credit for is putting oil in the center of the table. What is intended? How this will evolve? A mark is awarded. A Petroleum Commission is what I heard will come into being. Another mark is added. Mr. Hughes has asserted that he will not have any input or involvement with the AFC Oil and Gas Committee. The one-man policymaking and sole decision-making apparatus that is favored by the PPP Government is a recipe for disaster, and that is exactly what has resulted. Still, I must be candid: the first smatterings of doubt creep into my thinking. If so, how is this committee going to work? Indeed, I can visualize that sensitive committee being given the freest rein to deliberate and recommend, but unless it has complete autonomy and the fullest decision-making power, then the AFC leader is skating and in a no man’s land at that. However independent that committee is, it still must report to the head, especially considering that oil is of such vaulting national importance. In other words, he cannot be insulated from it, and the committee is not immune to his presence. Considering the intimate spaces within which Guyanese function, recusals do not have much weight in this part of town. When all is considered and done, I think that much of this, all of what goes on in that AFC Oil and Gas Committee, would hinge on the caliber of the people in it. The presence of Dr. Vincent Adams is an inspired one, and I can see many positives coming from that choice. From my own dealings with him, I discern a straight up presence, a no-nonsense person, which can only redound to the benefit of his party and Guyana. One more mark. I wish I could say the same about the PPP Government’s luminaries having some involvement in Guyana’s oil business. It’s a blotch on my oil scoresheet.

Elsewhere, I disagree with Mr. Hughes when he said that in his present leadership capacity that “I am not in a position to influence government policy, particularly as it relates to Exxon.” There is certainty that the AFC leader is familiar with what constant pressure applied on the PPP government’s blind spots (pre-return to power commitments, its leaders’ walking back on their words relative to what they would do with oil) could make it sweat. Relentless public outcry properly marshaled, and pressure strategically applied could make the government beat a hasty retreat in some instances. Last, the maintenance of an unsparing spotlight on the government’s policy failures and costly practices in the oil sector could go a far way in making the government pause, if only minutely. Those practices, I may add, are what this country can least afford.

Now, I venture again into booby-trapped territory: Mr. Hughes and his relationship with Exxon via professional contract. I could give a pass to his dogged assertion that there is no conflict of interest. Plus, as stated before, I agree that no law prevents his relationship with and representation of Exxon. But I put this before my brother Nigel (I am still the same, ole way): has he considered that there is a possible contradiction in vision? I elaborate. There is all his extraordinary talk about money into the bank accounts of citizens through the operation of law, other encouraging programs, and so forth. It is a laudable political vision at work. It requires mega money, which can only come from one source. Sooner or later, his vision collides with the immovable stance of Exxon, i.e., on anything to do with money. I did note that his independent O&G committee speaks about its involvement in many good oil areas, but not in its economics. By my calculation, this circles right back to the leader, Nigel Hughes, and that baton cannot be passed. It is his, whether as AFC leader or the national leader-in-waiting.

Thinking of this, what is then going to be the most muscular, the most electrifying, of Mr. Hughes campaign for national leadership? Campaigning started last week. He may avoid taking challenging oil positions today, but for how long more? I think he limits his communication power, inhibits his pulling power, while there is this knotty Exxon relationship on the one hand, and his running for top office on the other. The countdown for national elections has started. It could be this year, early 2025, or beyond. Some considerable US dollar income is sure to be foregone, if there is parting of the ways now. But that parrot will not be there and talking out of turn on the way forward. I think that such a move has unmatchable merits. It is Mr. Hughes’ to make.