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Sunday, February 28, 2021

No sinister motive behind non-disclosure of contract, several details in public domain – Trotman

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Guyana’s Minister of Natural Resources, Raphael Trotman, reiterated on Wednesday, that the Government believes it should not release the full details of the contract between itself and ExxonMobil at this time, but pointed out that enough details are already in the public domain for a conclusion to be made.

Mr. Trotman’s remarks come hours after it was reported in the media that Presidential Advisor on Petroleum in Guyana, Dr. Jan Mangal, expressed the view that all natural resources contracts, including the one between ExxonMobil and Guyana, should be made public. Mr. Mangal told media representatives on Wednesday that his Terms of Reference as advisor has, as a key item, the matter of transparency. “…I believe all resource contracts should be made public, not only petroleum; diamond, gold, timber. These are all resources of the people…in the long-term that is what will help Guyana,” he stated.

However, Mr. Trotman said, “We have released quite a few details in fact, and if persons are wise enough; and many are, you can put pieces together to get a sense of what is the contract.

He further noted that there are a number of extenuating and external issues which are being attended to and which supports the reasons for not publishing the full details of the contract. “Some of them have foreign affairs implications, some of them have sovereignty implications, and some have national security implications,” he said.

Mr, Trotman said on a televised programme in July that sinister moves appear to be afoot by others, to gain access to the petroleum agreement.

“There has been, and I can only say this much; a very active effort by some others to gain access to our documents and we have every reason to even say publicly that some people have been put up to try to  gain documents on behalf of, or for obvious reasons…,” he said on Plain Talk, aired on July 26.

Guyana has been embroiled in a decades-old controversy with neighboring Venezuela over claims to large swaths of its territory, which includes oil-rich maritime waters offshore. Guyana maintains that this issue was settled over a century ago in an 1899 arbitral award. The matter now seems headed for the International Court of Justice (ICJ) since the existing Good Offices process, which began in 1990, will come to an end in December.

The natural resources minister said that government has been advised that unless the issues of foreign affairs, national security and sovereignty are addressed, then the full content of the Production Sharing Agreement should not be released.

“It is perhaps not palatable to everyone to accept that and sometimes advice is not always what you want to hear but it is important that if you have retained experts and others to advise you that you abide by their advice,” he said.

Speaking specifically on the contract details, he said, “There is nothing in there that could sink anyone or sink a Government. As a matter of fact, I have said that often times, it is really a continuation of a 1999 contract and it was tweaked in just a few places and so there is nothing to hide.”

He explained further that, “We have been advised that at this part in our juncture, as a country, we ought not to lay our contracts bare and one has to understand as well that there is a contract with ExxonMobil but there are a number of other contracts with other operators that this Government inherited and so it is not a matter of just releasing one contract.”

Discussions, he said would have to be held with all the operators, not just ExxonMobil, on the way forward regarding contract disclosure.

“We will have to go to all of the operators and work out with them when and what they would wish to have exposed. Each of these contracts that we would have inherited would have had and we found confidentiality clauses in them and so it is not just a matter of saying here. It is a matter of working with your partners and operators to ensure that we are at one,” he said.

Observers studying the confidentially clauses have however said that it does not apply to the disclosure of terms and conditions, only to technical and sensitive data.

Mr. Trotman has also made reference to a section in the Petroleum Act which he said seems to put the onus on disclosures in the hands of the licensee.

However, political commentator and Attorney-at-Law, Christopher Ram, has stated that based on his interpretation, this pertains to information in a report, and not, in the case of an agreement between Guyana and ExxonMobil, the contract itself. “I reject completely any interpretation of the Petroleum Exploration Act that seeks to prevent the full disclosure of petroleum contracts and agreements,” he told Oilnow in August.

Mr. Trotman said government remains committed to transparency and he is confident that in due course Cabinet will lift that blockade on the contract disclosure.

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