Vice President Dr Bharrat Jagdeo on a social media platform “The Guyana Dialogue” on Thursday evening May 12 addressed what he described as inaccuracies and misconceptions about management and accountability of the nascent oil and gas industry. This was the second edition of the program that debuted on June 5 with President Irfaan Ali as the first guest. Next week’s program will feature the Prime Minister Mr. Mark Phillips.
The Guyana Dialogue is an initiative of the diaspora. It is organized by a coordinating council in the diaspora and coordinated by community advocate Dr. Tara Singh. It is hosted by social media personality Shameeza Ally and moderated by former Senior Lecturer of UG Dr Tara Singh with Dave Narine as a commentator. Funding for the program comes from businessman and philanthropist Dave Narine of Dave West Indian Imports.
The purpose of the program is to provide viewers with fact and evidence based information in order to allow them to understand the scope, nature, and challenges of development in Guyana. Dr. Singh explained that the aim of the program is to address misinformation pertaining to development in Guyana and to clarify and give understanding of issues. It is a weekly program aired every Thursday from 7:00 PM till 8:00 PM.
The VP as usual was very articulate and erudite. In his opening remark, Vice President Jagdeo showered praises on the initiators and thinkers who conceived the program. “Let me commend the diaspora for this Guyana Global Dialogue initiative. Let me also thank Mr. Dave Narine for funding this initiative. It is good to have a program that engages Guyanese to become aware of facts of issues so that they can make informed decisions. There is a drought of informed opinions in our country. There is rhetorical and anecdotal comments and there are some people out to make mischief”.
Asked about Norton’s claim that he was in possession of original SOPs that show the coalition won the elections, the VP stated he did not wish to contaminate the program by addressing this outrageous lie. But he debunked the claim saying Norton is not taken seriously. (See separate report on the VP’s response to Norton).
The VP was asked to comment on misinformation pertaining to the subject of Oil Revenues and the Natural Resources Fund, as relates to accountability and transparency. He was asked, “What measures are put in place to address these issues?”
Jagdeo responded: “Our election manifesto carefully addressed the issues. We proposed laws to change what the APNU legislated. We stated that we would put out an infrastructure to manage the sector from a regulatory perspective. We said we would reform and update the 1986 ACT – the Petroleum Act. And we have strengthened the regulatory capabilities of Ministry of Natural Resources. We said there would be a transition to an independent petro commission – in terms of the architecture of managing the sector. We stated we would reform the sovereign wealth fund or the natural resource fund. The APNU passed an illegal act after it lost the no confidence motion. That act lacked legitimacy because it was passed after the no confidence vote.
The APNU legislation concentrated enormous powers in the hands of the Minister of Finance alone. That does not lend itself to transparency or regulation of the sector. We made a commitment on transparency and reducing the powers of government officials. And we honored our commitment. We stipulated how we will use the resource fund, the oil wealth. We stated what sector it would go to and why. We wanted to avoid the Dutch disease which could affect all sectors of the economy. Our criticism of APNU and our manifesto were clear on our position on the oil and gas industry. We had the blessing of the electorate in terms of winning the elections; the electorate endorsed our manifesto and we proceed to legislate and implement programs. We also stated our position on gas to energy project. It was in our manifesto. And we did it.
We have the Wales Industrial development Complex project. We have had transparency in resources and in receipts. Look at what APNU did. They hid the signing bonus and lied about it. They put it in an account that evaded the Auditor general. On the contract, we acknowledged it was lopsided. But we made it clear that we will not renegotiate it. Renegotiation would have been a popular position during the election campaign. But our position was that we would not renegotiate this contract on the Stabroek bloc. But for any new PSA, we said there will be terms advantageous to the country. And we said any new development of the oil sector will come on different terms and that we would add ring fencing, etc. – issues that were deficiencies in the contract signed by APNU.
We said we would accelerate production for the fossil fuel sector because of COP climate change net zero goal offered a limited period for the fossil fuel sector. We said we would seek more benefits for local Guyanese. Local content legislation was passed. We encouraged and promoted local capacity building measures. We have created huge opportunities for Guyanese companies. Foreigners are busy running down Guyanese private sector companies to partner with them. Our policy has led to a rebalancing to bring benefits to Guyanese businesses. We have eked out more benefits to Guyanese. We said we will bring the gas to shore, monetize the gas, and generate cheap power that will impact business community. We aim to cut electricity prices by 2024 by 50%. On environmental protection, we are taking appropriate precautions.”
“Don’t believe what you read that we are not doing feasibility studies. We did feasibility on the issue. We hired technical people on structural matters. On capacity building side, we are building a massive oil training institute at the Training Center in Port Mourant. We are paying to train people on short term – to fill immediate jobs as welders, fitters, etc.”
The VP said the government has received inquiries and or interests from members of the diaspora seeking positions in the energy sector. “We don’t have the kind of positions they seek in government. We are not a producing entity. We are a regulator at this stage”.
Asked about the proposal from the opposition to give out cash grants of $250K every quarterly to every adult Guyanese, the VP said that would cost billions in American dollars and we don’t even collect a portion of that amount in oil revenues. “That suggestion does not make sense”. The VP said the government will invest in industrial projects that would provide long term sustainment of the economy. “We are offering grants for small businesses and support part time jobs ensuring people with disability, elderly, and children get assistance. We will provide world class education. We want the income of parents to grow so they can assist their children better. Currently, we gave $25K school and uniform grant. We will eventually grow it to 50K”.
The VP slammed the so called environmentalists of Guyana for their duplicity. He said: “Every country in the world looks out for itself. The US has urged companies to produce more oil because of Ukraine in spite of limitations relating to COP 26. Our so called environmentalists are not taking a nationalist position like those of other countries to promote oil production. Some have written to the PM of Barbados to ask us to stop oil production. The PM of Barbados herself is asking oil companies to search for oil off the coast. Why don’t they ask other countries like Trinidad and Tobago to stop producing oil because they are polluting the Caribbean Sea. It is a duplicitous position. They are making a mockery of their position on the oil industry. We must look out for our country. Our environmental position is strong. We are at net zero. We will remain so for a long time. We are funding capital programs for long term development. We are not focused on current expenditures”.
The VP ended his exchange with the social media program by once again applauding the organizers for this diaspora initiative to keep the public abreast of happenings at home.
By Vishnu Bisram