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Transparency Institute Guyana Inc. (TIGI), Red Thread and the National Toshaos Council (NTC) are among civil society organisations calling on the Irfaan Ali Administration to amend the Natural Resource Fund (NRF) Act, and to ensure the selection processes in both the NRF and the Guyana Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (GYEITI) are credible, transparent, trustworthy and in the nation’s interest.
The renewed call comes less than three months after the Government rammed through the National Assembly the Natural Resource Fund Act amid fierce objection from the Opposition, and approximately one month after the Government removed Dr. Rudy Jadoopat as Head of the GYEITI.
Just hours before the statement was issued on Wednesday, the Government used its one-seat majority to select its nominee Dunstan Barrow, a Businessman and former Member of Parliament, for appointment to the Natural Resource Fund (NRF) Board of Directors, thereby, bypassing the Opposition’s nominees Chartered Accountant and Attorney-at-Law Christopher Ram, and former Head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Dr. Vincent Adams for the post.
“The bewildering pace and range of official decision-making is rendering the Government accountable to no one, generating a widely felt dilemma of who to trust and what to believe. There is no longer any official institution or agency to which anyone – including those sympathetic to the administration – can turn for an objective assessment of major issues affecting the future of Guyana,” the civil society organisations said in a joint statement on Wednesday.
The statement was also endorsed by the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA), the Guyana Society for the Blind, Guyana Workers’ Union (GWU), Policy Forum Guyana Inc., the Guyana Organisation of Indigenous Peoples, Community-Based Rehabilitation, East Coast Development Committees and the Ursuline Sisters in Guyana.
The organisations said the Government extricated itself from accountability when it stripped the Natural Resource Fund Act of the Public Oversight and Accountability Committee (POAC); reduced the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to a “rubber-stamp” and replaced the Head of GYEITI with a high-profile party person.
The civil society organisations posited that Government’s failure to consult the Opposition on matters of national interest confirms its longstanding ideological suspicion that the ruling party is of the opinion that it is not accountable to the Opposition because ‘no one voted for them.’
“The essence of accountability is provision of trustworthy information, i.e. facts that enable free, prior and informed consent,” the bodies said while noting that under the current status-quo, citizens are left to rely on sources pieced together by the press, anecdotes from an energy conference, remarks to visiting dignitaries, or the latest foreign investor unveiling his plans.
“This control of information in an ethnically and politically polarized society – in which one side is inclined always to give the rulers who look like them benefit of the doubt and the other side to always suspect mischief – is particularly toxic. Such an approach would be unacceptable even were such opaque decision-making limited to routine political matters,” they said.
It was noted that when dealing with future-of-society issues such as a gas pipeline, a controversial hydroelectric scheme, expanded oil exploration and deposit of 30 tons-and-counting of toxic wastes daily on the coastland, the current decision-making process is nothing less than frightening and intolerable.
The civil society organisations submitted that GYEITI is best suited to oversee the Extractive Sector given its clear and limited mandate to contract leading international accountants to produce vital extractive sector information in an annual Report in which anyone can have. However, it was posited that GYEITI’s primary characteristic of trustworthiness is now under threat.
“The person recently identified as the next Director of the GYEITI is not known to have competencies in business, economics, finance or the extractive sector. Moreover, the absence of required qualifications is aggravated by the fact that his employment record in Guyana has been associated with positions usually reserved for persons trusted by the ruling party,” they said.
They added: “In small politically and ethnically divided States such as Guyana, governed by a very slim one seat “majority”, it is imperative to ensure that the Head of the GYEITI Secretariat is both competent in the specifics of the job as well as capable of objectively managing diverse stakeholder’s interests.”
The bodies said similarly, the credibility of NRF has been fatally compromised by party-dominated decision-making. “Also troubling is the replacement of the Minister of Finance with the Presidency in the NRF Act 2021, an Office immune to prosecution. In such circumstances the transparent and trustworthy information all Guyanese have a right to expect about the Fund will be sacrificed.”
Alluding to the just released USAID sponsored Democracy, Human Rights and Governance Assessment Guyana, the organisations endorsed the position that “it is incumbent on the government, parliament and the citizens to reach across the racial and ethnic divide to come to a common vision of a new national development plan… political favoritism towards one ethnic group is especially worrisome as Guyana is on the cusp of unprecedented economic transformation.”