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…Minister Bharrat says APNU+AFC was leading Guyana towards the ‘Dutch disease’
By Lisa Hamilton
Opposition Member of Parliament (MP) David Patterson has expressed the APNU+AFC’s willingness to work with the PPP/C Government on the management of Guyana’s oil and gas sector. He told the National Assembly on Friday that failure to manage the sector collectively would only prove detrimental to Guyana in the long run.
Patterson, Opposition Shadow Minister with responsibility for oil and gas, put forward the preposition at Day Four of the 2021 Budget debate. However, his presentation did not go without heavy criticism to the Government on matters such as flaring and the planned gas-to-shore project, which saw a response from Minister of Natural Resources, Vickram Bharrat.
“It is our position that once we present a united position to our international partners, the harder it will be for them to continue ignoring our concerns. Moving forward this issue is clearly in the hands of the Government,” he said.
“It is our position, that once we present a unified position to our international partners, the harder it will be for them to continue ignoring our concerns. Moving forward, this issue is squarely in the hands of the Government,” Patterson said, likening the move to that of uniting on the Guyana/Venezuela controversy.
He added: “The time for grandstanding and blame is over. The time to act in the best interest of the citizens of our country is now.”
In his party’s opinion, the PPP/C Government has managed the oil and gas sector less efficiently than the APNU+AFC Administration and there is much room for improvement through collaboration.
Patterson told the House that since the discovery of oil offshore Guyana, there has been much discussion about the strength and value of the contract signed between ExxonMobil and the Guyana Government, with much criticism of the APNU+AFC’s 2016 contract signing.
During its election campaign, Patterson reminded the House that the PPP/C lobbied on the promise that it would improve management of the sector and put a framework in place to bring about greater transparency and accountability. This would include better contract management and renegotiation.
However, the Opposition MP said that, while the APNU+AFC maintains that its 2016 contract signed is “vastly improved” from the previous, instead of acting on its promise for improvement, the PPP/C Government signed other contracts with ExxonMobil which the Company is currently being allowed to breach.
“While acknowledging that mistakes and breakdowns can occur, APNU+AFC coalition is not satisfied with the handling of this issue by the Operator as well as the Government. Mr. Speaker, the response by Exxon to this issue, has quite frankly not only been disrespectful and insulting to the Guyanese public, but they also continue breaking the laws of the land with impunity,” Patterson said.
“The Opposition is ready, willing and able to join forces with the PPP/C to fend off the health, safety and environmental threats to our people, just like we do for national security of our country.”
Currently, ExxonMobil is flaring some 16 million cubic feet of gas daily offshore Guyana due to a malfunctioned flash gas compressor it is working to fix internationally. The flaring of natural gas is prohibited in their Environmental Permit between the country and the company.
However, ExxonMobil has argued that though the permit prohibits routine flaring, flaring related to FPSO start-up, emergencies, process events, or maintenance activities are not considered routine.
Some, like former Environment and Protection Agency (EPA) Head, Dr. Vincent Adams, have criticized ExxonMobil for not utilizing spare parts and for ramping up production to 130,000 bpd at the time of the malfunction. Dr. Adams has also heavily criticized the Government for simply accepting the excuses of a multi-billion dollar oil company without penalty or fines.
MP Patterson also addressed Guyana’s gas-to-shore project which would transport gas from the Stabroek Block to supply up to 250 megawatts of energy to the national grid.
The PPP/C represented by Vice President, Bharrat Jagdeo has confirmed that the project will be developed in Wales as it could pose an environmental threat if it were to be built in the highly populated area of Region Four.
However, Patterson highlighted that this decision was made by the Government while there is no evidence of studies, reports, or analysis being conducted prior. The MP dubbed it “a classic case of putting the cart before the horse”.
He also knocked the decision to build a gas powerhouse at Wales, which he said a multi-stakeholder group has deemed not viable for several reasons. These include the Demerara River being Guyana’s busiest; the river being fast-flowing; a submarine cable to bring power to the main load centre likely being disastrous and more.
In his response to these sentiments, Minister Bharrat said that the PPP/C has not changed its position that the 2016 contract between the APNU+AFC and ExxonMobil was poorly negotiated.
“Now the honourable Member is extending a hand to us to renegotiate or to review so it is an acceptance, Mr. Speaker, that the negotiation was poorly done and it was done in a hasty manner,” the Minister said.
Furthermore, he stated that the former Administration was leading Guyana down the path of the ‘Dutch disease’ and could not be trusted to manage the oil and gas sector when multiple non-oil sectors were suffering under its leadership. He was therefore pleased to announce that, under the PPP/C, the non-oil economy is expected to grow by 6.1 per cent in 2021.
He told the House: “Our hymn tune for the oil and gas sector will and always be transparency and accountability. That is our promise to the Guyanese people because we will ensure that oil does not become a curse to our country and our people; that it will become a resource opportunity to our people.”