Human rights body urges autonomy for State oil agencies

first_imgAs Petroleum commission bill awaits day in Parliament…says entities must be protected from political influence When it was first introduced, there was widespread criticism that the Petroleum Commission Bill gave too much political influence to the Government.According to the Executive Committee of the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) in a statement on Saturday, oil and gas institutions must be protected from undue political influence.The body questioned how the oil sector would directly improve the lives of citizens, and reiterated that entities that would have an input on state oil resources must be insulated from partisan political directives.“The unwillingness…to discuss that a problem exists renders reaching a solution remote,” the association noted. “Determining and defending the national interest would include, for example, taking steps to insulate oil and gas development from the vagaries of Guyanese elections.“Moreover, creation of state agencies and mechanisms related to oil and gas should be genuinely ring-fenced from partisan influence.“The (prevailing opinion) is that life in Guyana is about to be transformed. To date, it is unclear whether the transformation will create a secure, fulfilling life for all Guyanese, or will plunge our chronic failure to create such a society into something significantly worse,” the GHRA expressed.The association pointed to the recent controversies surrounding the appointment of a Chairman for the Guyana Elections Commission. This, it said, indicate the difficulties of filling posts through a bi-partisan process.“The price of polarised politics is to be counted, in part, in our inability to develop a truly national position on oil and gas. This implies, for example, that ExxonMobil, with its decades of experience as a global economic power, will be confronted across the table with inexperience, pettiness and mediocrity,” the association added.AppointmentsAccording to the GHRA, appointment of the questionably suitable rather than the eminently suitable is forcing certain considerations. These considerations, it noted, included whether it was time to appoint foreign nationals with the needed experience and qualifications to certain posts.“If we cannot bring ourselves to such a workable compromise domestically, are we prepared to consider, for example, that all appointments above a certain level should be of non-nationals? Galling as such a prospect may be, intransigent partisanship and willingness to sacrifice Guyana’s future by appointment of questionably suitable, rather than eminently qualified persons, are forcing such considerations upon us.“Guyanese have had enough of the posturing, the contempt for ethics, and the blatant preferment of political allies which passes for politics. If the transformational public policies required of us are not to be found in the political parties, where will such an initiative come from?”Autonomous institutionsThe Government came under a barrage of criticism when the Audit Office of Guyana (AoG) became one of several agencies to have their budget proposals cut by the Government for the year 2018.Since the office must provide oversight for Government spending at both the central and regional levels, the move did not go down well with the parliamentary Opposition. Auditor General Deodat Sharma has already stated that these cuts will have an effect on the agency’s plans.The association’s statement comes even as the Petroleum Commission Bill sits on the National Assembly’s Order Paper to be discussed at an upcoming sitting of Parliament. In fact, a number of other bills — such as the Animal Welfare Bill and even a motion to provide duty free concessions for two Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) staff — took precedence before this Petroleum Commission Bill, with first oil just two years away.The bill was sent to a Special Select Committee last year after the proposed powers of the minister had come under intense criticism. One example is that it allowed for the Natural Resources Minister to act in the absence of the Petroleum Commission Board, and even to dismiss the board.With Government already taking flak for sending a draft law, the Animal Welfare Bill, to a select committee but making no substantial changes thereafter, it remains to be seen whether this bill would propose that the minister’s powers be reduced.last_img read more