GUYANA: OIL: ‘Don’t rush the National Resources Fund (NRF) Bill’ – David Patterson

  • Opposition needs three months to scrutinise NRF bill
  • says Govt. rushing to quickly put hands on oil money

By Davina Bagot – Kaieteur News – Dec 24, 2021

David Patterson

Shadow Oil and Gas Minister, David Patterson has accused the Peoples Progressive Party (PPP) of forcing the critical National Resources Fund (NRF) Bill into legislation, so as to quickly access the fund.

The NRF is one of the latest Bills laid in the National Assembly and outlines the way in which the earnings from oil and gas production are to be spent. In fact, the Bill was tabled only on December 16 and is slated to be debated on December 29 and passed. There have been calls for the proposed legislation to be discarded even as some asked that it be sent to a special select committee as is done with complex bills. Already a civil society group, Policy Forum Guyana has filed a petition to Parliament for the bill to be stayed.       

In this regard, Patterson, the former Minister of Public Infrastructure under the previous administration, said that due to the nature of the bill, it is only fitting that the National Assembly and the nation at large be given three months’ time to fully scrutinise the document that contains more than 30 pages of information. In an invited comment, he said: “There are about two petitions in Parliament asking for them not to pass the legislation as yet, but to give the whole country time to go through the bill and comment on it, because people are very concerned and we (as Opposition) are very concerned about the fact that they have dismantled the 22-member committee and replaced it with handpicked persons. Then there are several other issues”.

Patterson is convinced that the Government is rushing to enact the legislation since it would enable it access to the oil funds sooner.

More so, he said with this proposed Bill, the incumbent administration would be able to, not only access the funds, but do so without any supervision, since the Government has proposed to remove the 22-member oversight committee.

The former APNU/AFC administration had set up a 22-member oversight committee, comprising of a representative from civil society organizations and community based organizations, civil society organizations; the Bar Association of Guyana, the Guyana Consumer’s Association; the Guyana Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), the Transparency International Guyana Inc. (TIGI) and the Guyana Press Association, among others.

Vice President, Bharrat Jagdeo’s position is that this body makes it “almost impossible to operationalise” the fund. Instead, the new legislation proposes that there be two key committees and a Board of Directors to preside over the management of the nation’s oil money. Importantly, all of the members on these committees as well as the Board will be appointed by the President or his Minister responsible for natural resources.

In this regard, the Opposition Member of Parliament posited “So they will rush it through on Wednesday, they will rush through the appointments, if they need to, but they want that money to put it into the budget. At least three months should be given but they don’t want to do that because they want to do the Budget in February”.

CONTROVERSIAL

He was keen to note that not only is the document controversial in that it excludes key members of society, but it also does not limit how much money can be accessed from the fund. “The Bill doesn’t limit how much they can take out, so they can spend as much as they like, once it is passed on Wednesday. One of the issues is oversight. There is no PPC, no Integrity Commission and no oversight on how it will be spent or tendered,” Patterson cautioned.

The MP reminded however that the Natural Resource Fund Act is supposed to be designed so that it benefits the people of the country, but without oversight on how the funds will be spent, Patterson is sure that it will only be to the benefit of the sitting Party. “The idea of the fund is that it should be used for the betterment of the people, but when they take that money out, there is no oversight as to how they are going to spend that, therefore we are sure that it is not going to go towards salaries and things like that,” he said.

CIVIL SOCIETY

Ramon Gaskin

Meanwhile, economist Ramon Gaskin, a member of the civil society group Article 13, also in an invited comment, noted that the bill should not be rushed. In fact, he said that the Constitution provides for consultations to take place, prior to such legislation being enacted. “This document is far too important to be rushed. They only have until the end of the year…secondly a matter of that nature requires consultations and the Constitution says that in Article 13 and these consultations have not taken place,” he argued.

Additionally, he said this proposed bill allows for the politicians to decide how to spend the revenue garnered from oil and gas, which remains an “unacceptable” portion of the proposed legislation. He said, “The Government is planning to create a system where the politicians will make the decisions on how to spend this money and I think this also is unacceptable. When you put politicians in charge of spending money of such huge sums especially, you are going to have a lot of problem”. “You will have wastage, you will have squandermania and you will have corruption,” Gaskin warned.

As part of the governance structure for the NRF, the government proposes to establish a Board of Directors which shall comprise of not less than three and not more than five persons who shall be appointed by the President, and one of whom shall be appointed Chairperson by the President. The amended Bill proposes that the directors be selected from among persons who have wide experience and ability in legal, financial, business or administrative matters. It was noted that one of the Board members shall be nominated by the National Assembly along with one from the private sector. The Bill states that the directors shall be appointed for a period not exceeding two years and shall be eligible for reappointment.

With respect to its functions, it is being proposed that the Board be responsible for the overall management of the Fund, reviewing and approving policies of the Fund, monitoring the performance of the Fund, ensuring compliance with approved policies, exerting general oversight of all aspects of operations, and ensuring the Fund is managed in compliance with the Act and other applicable laws.

Apart from the Board, there would also be an Investment Committee which shall have seven members appointed by the Minister of Natural Resources. They will include nominees from the Minister of Finance, Minister in charge of the oil sector, the Attorney General, Leader of the Opposition, the Private Sector and two ex officio non-voting members: the Senior Investment Advisor and Analyst and a nominee from the Governor of Bank of Guyana.

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Comments

  • Georgy  On 12/24/2021 at 5:11 pm

    The opposition better shut that govt proposal down real quick. I definitley don’t like the sound of what they’re planning to do. Jagdeo think he smart!!! Crookery, crookery, duck!!!!

  • brandli62  On 01/02/2022 at 3:58 pm

    So much for transparent and accountable governance – no time left for consultations with national stakeholders, the opposition and NGOs…..

  • wally n  On 01/02/2022 at 4:08 pm

    There might be something in the air…not since Ken Crosbie and…days A change is gonna come??

    taking shots at the Government??

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