OP-ED – Guyana’s oil sector and the ‘Boulevard of Death’
By Kiana Wilburg
Kaieteur News – By May 2020, I was on my fourth reading of Crude Intentions by Alexandra Gillies, one of the world’s most respected experts on pollution in the oil sector. In that book, Gillies offers readers a deep but dark cinematic view of how countries have failed to control their oil revenues. In Chapter Seven, Gillies who is also an adviser at the Natural Resources Governance Institute (NRGI), eloquently describes how the oil sector can be trapped in the “Boulevard of Death.”
As such, he noted that New York used to refer to Queens Boulevard, as “Boulevard of Death”. The appalling nickname was gained from the alarming rate at which pedestrians were killed or injured on the motorway. The situation was one that clearly called on the US authorities to put in place various measures such as traffic lights to tackle the rising road cairn. Importantly, Gillies stressed that traffic lights and other individual measures were not in themselves the cure or the silver bullet, but certainly the full suite of measures implemented reduced the number of deaths and injuries.
Each time I read this chapter, I am immediately transported to the Guyana situation with the oil resources that join wood, gold, bauxite and rice, in the metaphorical avenue of death. For years, the media outlets have reported on how the revenue earned from these resources is harmed by various acts of corruption that are left unchecked by weak regulatory institutions and public servants who n poorly paid who are expected to be protectors of the resources. Add the delicate legislative and regulatory framework to the equation, and the pollution before you balloon, decay and smell more and more every year. This is what nine and more billion barrels of oil-equivalent resources have been born into and continue to be trapped in. Of course, Guyana has a chance now before it’s too late; to ensure that the oil resources are protected from the evils we have seen happening with our other traditional sectors. But is the current administration moving fast enough to ensure that the casualties of failure to act are not high?
The PPP / C Government started the job by surfing the tide of commentary that it knows what needs to be done to protect the oil sector, that the APNU + AFC wastes valuable time preparing us, and would manage ‘ sector interests the people. But has he done enough to show that he will also not be prone to sleeping at the wheel and / or treating ExxonMobil like a king in a sovereign nation?
I tend to agree with the comments of several local stakeholders, including Chartered Accountant and Attorney-at-Law, Christopher Ram, that the People’s Progressive Party Civic administration can no longer use it as excuses, the need to respond to COVID-19 pandemic or the fact that it had a late start in preparing and passing an emergency budget for failing to take adequate steps to protect the oil and gas sector. Let me be clear that no one expects the party to have all the basics in place. But at least Guyanese deserve to see action, and I mean quick action in this. Political hymns about capacity building and claims that work is being done to strengthen the sector are no longer enough. As the great Audrey Hepburn sang in the 1964 musical classic, My Fair Lady, “… Don’t talk about love lasting all the time… Sing me no song! Read me no rhyme! Show me! ”
At the very least, the PPP should have initiated a review of Guyana’s outdated oil laws and identify who would be in charge of this process and what laws would be looked at first, explain what systems would be put in place to secure spending and transparent reporting of the oil currency, putting systems in place for voluntary and timely issuing of profit oil lifts as well as related sales agreements, and initiating a national debate on how Guyanese want to see the oil resources developed.
During a recent interview on Kaieteur Radio, Attorney General Anil Nandlall proudly revealed that he had begun the process of reviewing the legal instruments in order to close the gaps that would allow election officials to engage in acts that could hurt the integrity of the constituents process. While it is commendable that the government is taking the steps that would ensure free and fair elections four years from now, when will the oil laws be given the same priority? When will the same priority be given to building an army of auditors and regulators for the sector? What exactly are we waiting for?