Civil society bodies willing to support interim oversight O&G mechanism

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The Stabroek Market area, downtown, Georgetown.

Policy Forum Guyana is among a group of civil society bodies calling for the establishment of an interim monitoring mechanism for the oil and gas sector in light of the recently announced plans for early production and as a stop-gap measure, until the establishment of the legislatively mandated oversight bodies.

The goal of the initiative is to generate national consensus around the importance of and support for a modern, fair, transparent and inclusive oversight mechanism for oil and gas decision-making. The groups said that the interim mechanism is necessary to oversee the decision-making process with respect to oil and gas since the full-fledged Public Accountability and Oversight Committee (PAOC) cannot be fully achieved prior to elections scheduled for March 2, 2020.

In a statement signed by Policy Forum Guyana along with the Amerindian Peoples Association (APA), East Coast Clean-Up Committees (ECD), Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA), Guyana Organization of Indigenous Peoples (GOIP), Red Thread and Transparency Institute Guyana Inc. (TIGI), the concern over the country’s non-readiness for the oil and gas industry was highlighted.

“While a range of factors have contributed to the lack of technical readiness, the source of political unreadiness is readily located in the absence of a bi-partisan political culture, following decades of dysfunctional politics.  Policy Forum Guyana (PFG) is encouraging a broad-based civic initiative to address this pressing issue,” the release said.

The press release said the announcement that first oil will now be in December 2019 underlined the urgency of civic action to monitor the sector. It pointed out that the Public Accountability and Oversight Committee which is meant to properly monitor the sector is not yet established.

“The Ministry of Finance is to be credited for making a Sovereign Wealth Fund the centre-piece of its fiscal structure with respect to management of oil revenues, accompanied by the PAOC to monitor its performance, both set out in the Natural Resources Fund Act (NRF). Technically, both elements are generally sound, but politically wanting,” the release said.

Moreover, the groups believe that the proposed PAOC process reflects excessive control on the part of the Ministry of Finance, thereby weakening interest from significant sectors of civil society.

“We are, therefore, faced  with the urgent need to find a formula which will encourage civic and business as well as political energies to both preserve the progressive intentions of the NRF Act and have at least an interim arrangement in place by the time ‘first oil’ comes on stream.  In more normal circumstances, the deficiencies of the Act could be addressed by amendments to the Act in Parliament, a route ruled out by Parliament currently being in an electoral recess,” the release said.

According to the groups, civil society over the past two years has been addressing the ‘political’ dimensions of oil and gas, namely, how decision-making on the funding of oil and gas priorities should be addressed.   These activities, they said, have included a series of ‘Open Space’ meetings around the country and a series of round-table discussion.

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