SARA ‘shooting in the dark’ with oil blocks probe – Chamber

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One of the lead groups representing businesses in the South American country of Guyana says while it stands firmly by the rule of law, it outrightly rejects the ‘reckless pronouncements’ being made by an anti-corruption agency regarding an apparent probe into offshore oil blocks issued to several companies.

The Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI) believes that premature statements to the media by the State Asset Recovery Agency (SARA) about investigations in which potential parties of interest have not yet even been contacted, impacts negatively on the country’s business climate.

On May 22, Bloomberg reported that an investigation was underway on how exploration rights were awarded for the Stabroek, Kaieteur and Canje blocks, all operated by ExxonMobil, as well as the Orinduik block operated by Tullow Oil. Bloomberg quoted the Director of SARA as saying that the probe is broad in scope and is at an early “investigatory stage.”

The Associated Press then reported on May 29, this time quoting the Deputy Head of the Agency, that the investigation was focusing on two blocks – Kaieteur and Canje.

“At this point I think we are shooting in the dark and the State Asset Recovery Agency is wasting its time,” said Chamber President, Nicholas Boyer. He asserted that in the absence of clear guidelines for the issuance of blocks and how relinquishment would be approached, SARA’s actions amount to an expedition in which expected outcomes are unclear.

Chair of GCCI’s Petroleum Committee, Charles Ramson Jr., said what he found to be offensive and irregular is the act of broadcasting to the world via an international business news service, talk of an investigation with “known or unknown outcomes which could jeopardize the possibility of local investment here in Guyana.”

He said what should first obtain “is an internal investigation that is not reported on until it is concluded.” Referring to a report in the media which quoted an official at ExxonMobil Guyana as saying the company has not been contacted regarding any investigation, Ramson Jr. said, “How is it you are reporting that there is an investigation into the award of blocks with oil companies being at the front of it and one of the companies itself says that it is totally unaware and has never been contacted?” he asked.

“It is dangerous for investor climate; it destroys investor confidence and it creates that level of uncertainty that we don’t need right now. We haven’t produced a drop (of oil) as yet and you already want to send bad signals to the international community,” he stated.

The Chair of GCCI’s Petroleum Committee said what he also finds concerning is that there are no elected officials speaking on oil and the only comments regarding the apparent investigation is coming from SARA.

“I am not saying that where there are issues that investigations shouldn’t be conducted,” Ramson Jr. said. However, he pointed out that all the information which is available in the public domain on the issue, suggest that the pronouncements by SARA were premature and not well thought out.

SARA’s probe stems from allegations that corruption may have played a role in the award of oil blocks in the lead up to the 2015 elections.

Officials in the Guyana government as well as the main opposition party, which was in office when some of the contracts were signed, have said that they are committed to honoring agreements the county has entered with oil companies.

“That’s why for me; how did it end up at SARA first? Where is the Ministry of Natural Resources, the Geology and Mines Commission, the Department of Energy; am I the only one that is baffled by this?” asked Chamber President, Nicholas Boyer.

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