Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley told reporters in Guyana on Wednesday that the twin island republic has been a good friend to the South American country over the years even choosing to write off billions of dollars in debt owed by Guyana.
The Prime Minister was at the time addressing concerns raised in Guyana about a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on energy cooperation that the two countries signed on Wednesday in Georgetown. Sections of the Guyanese private sector had pointed out that any engagement with Trinidad that opens the way for businesses from that country to benefit from oil and gas opportunities in Guyana must be carefully considered, particularly in the absence of a local content framework.
Speaking at a joint press conference with Guyana’s President, David Granger and Foreign Affairs Minister, Carl Greenidge, Dr. Rowley sought to set the record straight. He said since the matter has been a subject of national and international discourse he would be ‘failing in his duty’ if he did not point out that “we in Trinidad and Tobago are proud to have the records show that as a small developing country, not being a member of the Paris Club, when Guyana sought relief at the Paris Club for debt forgiveness, we in Trinidad and Tobago wrote off billions of Trinidad and Tobago dollars of Guyana debt…”
He went on to point out that the twin island republic took this course of action in the face of international pressures but nevertheless does not hold it as a quid pro quo but as a signal that Trinidad is a friendly cooperating neighbour.
However, it was the same Dr. Rowley who in 1996 at the time the issue of the debt write-off was raised, said Guyana has “picked the pockets of Trinidad and Tobago.” He is quoted in a June 11, 1996 Inter Press Service News Agency report as saying that his party did not support the then government’s decision to write off a significant portion of Guyana’s debt and would like to see the money owed to Trinidad and Tobago repaid through assets such as forestry land, rice and gold mining interests which he said Guyana had in abundance.
Meanwhile, President Granger said that the fears expressed by the private sector over a Trinidad take over are unjustified and baseless. Rather, he said the private sector should be proud and pleased with the step that the two Governments have taken. “There is nothing in the MoU, which seeks to harm the interests of one State or the other. There is no sell out. There were some unjustified fears that Guyana is giving away the family jewels but that is not true. It is simply a means of collaborating. Trinidad is bringing years of experience not only in production but in marketing, in gas, in oil spills, in dealing with multinational corporations and the MoU is a means of benefiting from Trinidad and Tobago’s expertise and experience. So that fear of giving away is completely unjustified,” he stated at the press conference.
Private sector officials have said the creation of a framework that allows for local and foreign companies in the oil and gas industry to collaborate in a mutually beneficial manner is key to allaying such fears.
The local content debate has been raging since the first oil discovery in Guyana by ExxonMobil back in 2015. Since then the company has made 8 more discoveries amounting to more than 4 billion barrels of oil, placing Guyana as an upcoming major oil producer in the region.
The massive revenues and business opportunities that come with oil production have pushed the local business community into high gear with several companies moving to build capacity and upgrade their operations. Private sector officials contend that a local content development framework must allow for the transfer of knowledge and skills from foreign companies to their local counterparts so that Guyanese enterprise would eventually be able to play a leading role in the future decades-old industry. The absence of such a framework to date, coupled with the potential influx of foreign companies, have combined to provoke a high degree of anxiety and concern among the Guyanese private sector.