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…concerns over impact on citizens; lack of due diligence raised
By Lisa Hamilton
The Petroleum Production and Exploration (Amendment) Bill was passed in the National Assembly on Monday after much-heated debate about the effect to which the Gas-to-energy project could impact private properties and the level of due diligence put in the venture.
According to the Explanatory Memorandum of the Bill, Subsection 2(A) states that “the Minister may obtain written consent from any landowner or lawful occupier of private land” to install or operate pipelines, submarine, fibre optic or terrestrial cables or similar infrastructure.
The Opposition contended throughout that the amendment to the Bill places too much power in the hands of the Minister which could lead to corruption. Government Ministers objected, stating the amendment to the Bill is actually meant to protect private properties with the Minister as the negotiator for any part of the project that falls on private property.
Addressing the House and noting his non-support for the Amendment Bill in its current format, Opposition MP, Devin Sears, proposed that it be forwarded to a Special Select Committee for review to allow for greater inclusion. “There will be no level playing field for everyone to benefit from this new amendment, it seems as if the PPP will give their supporters the benefit of whatever has to be shared,” he said.
On the other hand, Opposition MP, Annette Ferguson said that she is concerned with the seeming haste of the Government to pass the Bill before the National Assembly goes into recess without the possibility for public consultation.
Speaking to the issues therein, she gave the example of a farmer owning land in the area that construction of pipelines fall being approached by another person to lease the said land but having to request the Minister’s permission.
“Why is it that I, being the titleholder of that land, should now write to the Minister of Natural resources, asking him to grant concession or permission for me to lease what is rightfully mine? Comrade Leader, I can only describe this as a move of corrupt practices to control ordinary Guyanese lands,” Ferguson said.
However, Minister within the Ministry of Public Works, Deodat Indar said that the Bill, which seeks to amend Section 52 of the Principal Act, gives the Minister the power to protect the safety of operations in the area the pipeline will be placed.
“For you to do that the Minister needs to be empowered to do what he has to get the pipeline onshore…taking it to the plant. And that is what this amendment is for, it is for the protection and the safety of residents in the various communities,” he said.
Meanwhile, Minister of Public Works, Juan Edghill stood in support of the Amendment noting that it will allow for reliable and cheap electricity to catapult Guyana. He said if the Opposition had done its research, it would have realised that over 90 percent of the land for the project already belongs to the State. “What we are seeking to do, sir, is to ensure where there are any private lands, that there is fair, transparent and accountable process, that people will not be in danger and secondly, wherever lands have to be acquired people are fairly compensated and not bullied out of their property,” Edghill said
However, Opposition MP, David Patterson contended that nothing could be further from the truth. “This is a Bill for them to have control over the rights of private members to enjoy the usage of their legally occupied land…the Minister of Works said 90 percent of the lands are already State-owned, this is the Bill for the 10 percent,” he told the House.
The former Minister of Public Infrastructure added that while the current Government created havoc when the Opposition was in Office for its conduct of “too many studies”, the Government has now committed the country to a $900M pipeline project with an incomplete study.
Patterson also addressed the Government’s failure to state whether it has plans to conduct a grid study, as the previous Administration did, as this would prove that simply connecting the 200 megawatts of power from the project would cause a shutdown of the country’s energy system.
He said: “We’ve tried it. We gave Giftland to bring in three megawatts. [it] brought the system down. The same thing will happen exactly if they don’t do [a grid study] with the 45.6 megawatts in Land of Canaan. Sir, we have a major issue and they are actually trying to tell the nation that … putting 200 megawatts in our system, it will solve the problem. It will not, it will bring GPL down.”
Also addressing the House was Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Anil Nandlall who iterated that the main purpose of the Bill is to protect private properties. He said that ExxonMobil is not comfortable with the amendments but the Government has decided to act in the interest of its people.
“Wherever the pipeline falls on private property, we’re not touching that…Mr. Patterson read Section 52 alone, section 52 does not exist by itself,” Nandlall said. “Every effort will be taken to ensure that it runs through Government lands…we don’t want the licensee [ExxonMobil] to get involved, we want the Minister to do the negotiations.” The AG concluded that the amendment Bill addresses the very ‘evils’ that the Opposition claims it doesn’t.
In final statements, Minister of Natural Resources, Vickram Bharrat told the House that the amendment is not a contentious one but seeks only to protect private properties and facilitate the realisation of Guyana’s “most transformational project”. He requested that the amendment to the Act be passed as is.
The Amendment Bill was then read for the second time, considered and approved by Committee and was passed in the National Assembly.