Former minister says oil blocks awarded legally; calls probe ‘election propaganda issue’

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Former Guyanese Minister of Natural Resources and the Environment, Robert Persaud, said he refuses to be dragged into what he called an election propaganda campaign in the ongoing issue surrounding a probe by the State Asset Recovery Agency (SARA) into the award of several oil blocks offshore the South American country.

Further, the former minister, who held responsibility for the petroleum sector, cautioned against “reckless and presumptive statements by vested interests for fear of eroding investor confidence.”

Persaud made clear his support for any independent review regarding the matter.

A report in business publication Bloomberg during May cited head of SARA Dr Clive Thomas who disclosed that a probe has been initiated by the state agency to investigate the circumstances surrounding the allocation of offshore oil blocks, namely; the Stabroek, Orinduik, Canje and Kaieteur blocks.

However, in a subsequent report published this time by the Associated Press, Deputy Director of SARA Aubrey Retemeyer said the probe seeks to uncover who profited from the sale of the Kaieteur and Canje  blocks both of which were awarded prior to the change in government in 2015. As a result of the departure from the information quoted as coming from Dr Thomas in the earlier Bloomberg report, former presidents Donald Ramotar and his predecessor Bharrat Jagdeo have dismissed the SARA probe as a political ploy with Jagdeo referring to it as a shakedown.

“… I have not been contacted by SARA or any other entity regarding the issue of ‘oil blocks.’ I do support any independent, non-partisan review of the previous and current governments’ award of petroleum exploration licenses in Guyana’s offshore,” Persaud stated.

He insisted that all legal processes were followed and stood by statements made by Ramotar. “We have nothing to hide and I do concur with former President Donald Ramotar, who, as the then Minister with responsibility for Petroleum, earlier commented on this matter, saying: ‘Any unbiased, professional independent review will once more confirm all due legal processes were followed and during the PPP/C time in office the country’s best interest was served, given the realities of the day’,” Persaud said.

He pointed out that from the time of the current government’s assumption of office he has always made himself available for clarification and/or elaboration on policy decisions and actions taken in relation to his ministerial portfolios.

“However, I will not be dragged into what is patently an elections propaganda campaign issue by a politically-controlled state agency and being promoted by sections of the media and so-called oil and gas ‘experts’ and ‘advisors’ one of whom to my knowledge was until recently one of the applicants for the award of an exploration block as part of a local business group,” he indicated.

Persaud said that the PPP/C’s achievements and unwavering determination in laying the foundations for Guyana to be an oil producing nation “has been both stellar and transparent as well as in full conformity with all relevant laws and regulations.”

Ramotar, who served as president from 2011 to 2015 and who held direct responsibility for petroleum has called the investigation a political ploy designed to distract from “inept management” of the country’s oil and gas sector.

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