Regulatory and political capture
Kaieteur News – Something catastrophic happened a while ago that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of civilians. In similarly tragic circumstances, two Boeing Max 737s struck shortly after taking over, one killing 157 people traveling from Ethiopia and another killing 189 after leaving Indonesia in good flight conditions. Here are a few of the barebones statistics from a long article in the BBC’s online edition titled, “What went wrong inside Boeing’s wrist?” (BBC, May 17, 2019). is what went wrong before anyone got on those Boeing Max 737 aircraft, and the answers should open eyes to them in this country, on how business is conducted at high levels.
The claim is that something called ‘regulatory capture’ is at work and it is ruining the work of the US Federal Aviation Authority, a vital watchdog for Boeing, so much to make it teeth, and Boeing dangerous to interests’ the public, the first of which is security. Regulatory capture is defined as when a state agency’s relationship with the industry it oversees becomes too close to comfort; instead of acting primarily in the public interest, it allows the business to call the shots.
This was also part of the criticism issued by US Senator Richard Blumenthal, who said the FAA had “decided to make security on the cheap … and put the fox in the care of the henhouse.” That is, too much of the safety work on the aircraft was contracted to Boeing itself. In the rush to produce the new Max 737aircraft, critical security features were discounted. Former head of the US Department of Transportation, Mary Sciavo, noted that she oversaw an audit of the FAA’s work relating to the Boeing 777, and concluded that most of the work was done by Boeing itself, with little real supervision. “In the FAA, they know that Boeing is overrun,” he said. “They know they don’t have the kind of resources they need to do the job they are tasked with doing. They pretend to explore, and Boeing pretends to be audited, when Boeing actually does it almost entirely on its own. ”
Although Guyana’s Environmental Protection Agency is one of the most crucial places subject to scrutiny, it is the wrong place to start, because it is held hostage by far more powerful, more resourceful men, and more ruthlessly. All roads lead there and all start right in political circles.
Faced with the ongoing charades happening here with Guyana oil, what we have is not so much regulatory capture, but political capture. Guyanese have to wonder why government after government, which all comes down hard on citizens and takes no prisoners without answers, without muscle, without pride, and without the willpower necessary to stand up to ExxonMobil and say: stop! Enough of this nonsense! What we have here is not working, and we need to talk. Instead, regular Guyanese have been left open on the apparent impotence and cowardice of local leaders, whether the current ruling PPP government or the previous or previous coalition regime ( also PPP). It has been a case different from that of the Bible and its slingshots confronting the tortured giant; but of one crawling around on hands and knees to pay homage (Exxon) in every way the company considers possible.
In Guyana’s scenario of political capture and leading political figures jumping to Exxon’s whim, no government information of the day, no laws reviewed, no independent parties recruited to critically oversee what Exxon does in sensitive areas. Unsurprisingly, there is no inclination or movement for the national unity that is absolutely mandatory, through political partnership and civic engagement. Instead of powerful, fearful and respectful political watchdogs (sentinels), prowling the perimeters on behalf of the people, what we have got is, one toothless puddle after another signaling their friendship by rolling over to have their bells ticking.
To be sure, we lack significant expertise in many areas of petroleum management ranging from front-end to oil accounting and exploration to environmental protection. It may be embarrassing, but the question (for which Exxon already knows the answer) should be asked: What work in what field can Guyana be competent enough to turn around and challenge Exxon, and not say here?
We outsource auditing. We outsource legal work. We have to outsource consultancy and advisory services in relation to this country’s oil wealth. Bottom line: there are very few oil-related things in very few places that we can do by ourselves, which leads to dependence on outsiders. Exxon knows this all too well, and because of that, we pay prices for things and what we don’t know. There is no question, Boeing has a tremendous economic impact. The same can be said for Exxon worldwide, and especially in Guyana today, which is well behind the clock and in points on the kind of skills and expertise to offer the scale of push back to Exxon in the majority of fields. One area, where there are obvious weaknesses, is the protection of the environment with the advent of oil.
Truth be told, Guyana’s EPA lacks what it takes to get things right, even to offer weak resistance against a behemoth like ExxonMobil. And when it seeks pedestrians to do either, the Guyana government has made sure that its arm is short, and that its muscle is not straining in any scary way. The government got rid of the same man, who may have made a difference, by leaving those more familiar with the limited limitations of Guyanese industrial practices and other customs in charge of the store. In fact, the local EPA is at a serious disadvantage, perhaps deliberately, in any conflict with Exxon. He can’t even spin on the ground. We offer her confusing perspective on Environmental Impact Assessments, which are not required by the EPA record, no matter what.
To help understand this a bit more, here is a set of real-life circumstances, which should make Guyanese understand how Boeings and Exxon (s) of the world operate. Barbara Lichman, an aviation lawyer and former lobbyist in Washington, says companies of this size know how to operate the political machinery to his advantage. “Companies of that size have very skilled lobbyists,” he said. “They hit Congress very, very hard and pressured them to relieve pressure on the company.” In Guyana’s context, this means Exxon is pushing the Guyana government, to force its honchos head to eat out of his hand and jump to his command. When attentive Guyanese are paying attention to the current government, there is already some head shaking about how dumb and clumsy it looks in Exxon’s face. Take a look at how the EPA is reduced to a shadow of a scuffle, how controlling and opposition politicians are ridiculous imitators of year-round masters, and how far the two leading political groups are willing to go to them as wicked and crimeless.
This is the essence of political capture, and is manifested daily by big shots of government. This is what Guyanese, including those wearing masks, can’t help but see. Where this oil of ours is concerned, may God in his goodness help us!