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We the people must continue to fight for transparency and accountability in government regardless of who is in office. It ought to be of concern that last month when a United States’ (U.S) journalist sought to get an answer from President Irfaan Ali whether Guyana got a fair deal from ExxonMobil he sidelined the question. Before the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) government left office in 2015 our Kaieteur and Canje oil blocks were hurriedly awarded; to whom we are yet to know. These blocks are expected to produce more than seven billion barrels of oil. The last five years when the PPP/C was in opposition they loudly accused the Coalition Government of signing secret oil deals and committed to reveal all should they return to office. They are presently in office and must deliver on this commitment.
We must join hands in the fight for good governance even as we call on those who have gone silent to speak out. In 2017, Eddie Boyea, Chairman of the Private Sector Commission (PSC) correctly said, “Guyanese need to really know what is going on in that Stabroek block …how many oil companies are out there, what they are finding, how we are going to work on policing these people in ensuring Guyanese get what they deserve for their resources, and what deals were signed between those companies and the government of Guyana” (Kaieteur News, March 22, 2017). It is hoped the PSC retains this interest and will continue to make public said demands.
We are talking about a U.S multibillion-dollar industry and still do not know who the operatives behind our wealth are and how much will we benefit. What is evident is the rapid pace at which the Donald Trump government and other U.S business interests are moving in, determining for us what must happen, as the government seems only too willing to accommodate. The U.S Export-Import Bank has offered financing for businesses desirous of investing in Guyana to the tune of US$200 billion or G$22 trillion. The visit by the President of the InterAmerican Bank, and statement by the US Ambassador that more high profile persons from the US will be visiting Guyana, as my grandmother would say, you don’t tek firestick to see at night what you can see at day.
There are forces at work, determined to manage our natural resources with the complicity of some politicians and local business interest at the exclusion of the welfare of Guyana and all Guyanese. Make no mistake, Americans are not going to invest in Guyana without having a significant presence here. I have stated before that that whereas no contract is written in stone, and the same principle applies for the oil contracts, Guyana must move to have a legislated Local Content Policy that places citizens- workers and businesses- first. I reiterate this position today with greater urgency. We have been forewarned about corruption in many oil producing countries. This we must seek to avoid at all cost.
Corruption is a human rights violation. It robs citizens of decent jobs, health care, education, infrastructural development, etc. We do not have to cast our memory far back to remember from about 2007 to 2014 Transparency International (TI) ranked Guyana among the most corrupt countries. For years Guyana held the infamous title of being the most corrupt English-speaking Caribbean country. In the 2019 TI Corruption Report, Guyana had jumped 34 places upward, reflecting significant improvement. Whereas corruption does not disappear overnight, the positive strides the country has been making must only get better. Those dark days must not return.
Eliminating corruption requires continuous vigilance. Government must police the system through the establishment of oversight institutions and an independent and properly functioning judiciary, and citizens must ensure they do. Thus, it must be of grave concern to all when the government last week disbanded one such institution, the State Asset Recovery Agency (SARA). The mission of the organisation was to pursue corruption, the theft of state assets and ensure transparency in government. For years Guyana was considered a rogue and corrupt nation. Dirty money had infiltrated the system and was estimated to be hovering around 40-60 percent of the economy.
This country once failed to meet international standards to become a full fledge member of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an institution that seeks to avert countries facilitating money laundering and the financing of terrorism. It was not until 2016 the organisation stated “Guyana had made significant progress in improving its regime to combat money laundering and terrorist financing and will therefore no longer be subject to the FATF’s monitoring process.”
In 2017 Guyana voluntarily joined the 51-member states Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). The aim of this institution is to ensure transparency and accountability by government, business and civil society in the management of a country’s extractive resources, which is a step in the right direction. As a member, Guyana will have to meet obligations to maintain its standing before year’s end. This depends on us holding the government to account to make public what the EITI requires, including the nature of the oil contracts, who played a role and who are the beneficiaries. It is to our collective interest to ensure full disclosure, to ensure we are not cheated or allow corruption to flourish in oil, mar the nation and rob us.