GUYANA: Politics: Oil Fund: Opposition to ramp up protests against new NRF law

 …  threatens court action against ‘wholesale thievery of oil money’

Scenes from the protest outside Arthur Chung Convention Center yesterday as Opposition MPs join in

December 30, 2021- Kaieteur News – Scores of Guyanese on Wednesday picketed in front of the Arthur Chung Conference Centre (ACCC)—where a sitting of the National Assembly was being held to protest their opposition to the Peoples Progressive Party Civic (PPP/C) Government’s rush to pass a new Natural Resources Bill, which many have since condemned as a move to legalise wholesale thievery of Guyana’s oil revenues.

The Bill aimed at replacing the NRF Act in place already in order to give sweeping powers and control over the oil fund and its use by the sitting President.         

HIJACK, STEAL, RAPE & ROB

The placard-bearing protestors, though prevented from entering the precincts of the ACCC venue, staged a vociferous activity on the roadway, chanting slogans such as “stop the Bill, stop the steal; don’t pass the law; and Guyanese voices must be respected.” They were soon joined by several Members of Parliament of the political Opposition who took a break from the parliamentary debates. The MPs included: Chief Whip, Christopher Jones, newly elected Peoples National Congress Chairman, Shurwayne Holder and Senior Counsel, Roysdale Forde among others.

The Alliance for Change’s Leader Khemraj Ramjattan and David Patterson could also be seen among the protest calling for the administration to not proceed with the Bill. Substantive Opposition Leader Joseph Harmon was absent from yesterday’s sitting of the National Assembly as was his colleague Member of Parliament, Geeta Chandan Edmond.
Among the non parliamentarians to also lend support to the protest action were Working People’s Alliance (WPA) Executive, David Patterson Georgetown City Mayor, Pandit Ubraj Narine, newly elected PNCR leader, Aubrey Norton, former government Minister Ronald Bulkan and Publisher, radio host and social commentator Glenn Lall.

Lall—who had been among the key persons calling for the protest action in addressing the gathering said “what is happening in there, the police should be arresting these people for what they are about to do there.” Referencing the intended passage of the NRF Bill 2021, Lall said “they are sneaking in the wee hours of the morning, to hijack, to steal and to rape and rob not only the present generations but future generations with this new law.”

GREEN ECONOMY PROJECTS
As such, Lall was adamant, Guyanese must understand the importance of the law being passed since it was empowering the government with “the power to go and withdraw every cent from that oil account that sits in America.”
This, he said, would be done under the guise of spending on natural disasters and “green economy projects; you know when it comes to accountability and transparency with these governments they have none.”
He further lamented, the lack of penalties in the proposed bill, saying “they are putting laws in place to go and take the people’s oil money, me and you oil money, take it and spend it and there is no jail time.” Lall used the occasion to cite similar instances in counties such as Angola and others where public oil funds were expended to enrich private persons and political interests.

Addressing some of the unambiguous provisions in the law, Lall pointed to the fact while the law applies penalty for not disclosing, it does not address misuse of funds. In other words, the law, he said, demands only “telling the nation” what is received and not to “safeguard or protect the money….that is what Jagdeo telling this nation, we will tell you how much we will be drawing but we will not be telling you how we will spend um or how or what are the kinds of things we are going to spend on, this is the kind of law they are putting there, this is the most dangerous law.”
Compounding the situation, Lall explained that the provisions in the new law not only provides for withdrawing all of the funds but “they are giving themselves the power to borrow billions on that account.” This, he said, means that the loans will have to be repaid using the proceeds to be had at some point in the future, to pay for loans already taken with the account as collateral.

FORCE PARTIES TO THE STREETS

WPA Executive, Dr. David Hinds in an interview with the media said the oil resources hold the potential to “get rid of squalor, fix our infrastructure, make our people live like full human beings.” He was adamant, an important issue such as the passage of the bill be made a national issue that is driven by all stakeholders. To this end, Hinds told media operatives, the party in government is only one stakeholder in the entire affair. The extant Bill which the new bill seeks to replace, removes the 22 oversight committee, Hinds reminded.

Speaking directly to yesterday’s protest action and its likely impact on the proceedings, Hinds responded in the negative to saying “no, this is not the type of government that is going to be driven by small numbers of people.” He nonetheless posited, “…this is a good start” and qualified his position by saying “these people (who) came out here today, they weren’t called out by political parties, they came out on their own and that is a very good sign.”
To this end, he said: “I think if the political parties had called this protest it would have been a bigger protest but the people must start their own action; so this is about self-activity on the part of the people and I think if and when that government goes ahead and passes that Bill I think that it will ignite a righteous indignation among the population that will force the political parties to come out onto the streets.”
He was adamant, “we are not going to win the battle inside of parliament because they have a majority and they are prepared to ram the bill and other bills through parliament in order to change what’s going on here we have to put pressure outside.”
As such, he called on the civil society organisations that have been appealing recently for more consultations on the legislation to, “come out here.” According to Hinds, “making press releases will not move this government.”

RAID & PILLAGE TREASURY

AFC’s spokesperson on oil and gas related matters and MP, David Patterson told this publication he was in full support of the protest action mounted, since “they are no safeguards, there is no transparency, it is a recipe for full corruption.”
According to the former minister with responsibility for the sector “the idea of a NRF is for us to put aside, save and spend sensible.” He said what government was looking to do was to pass a law using its one seat majority, to raid and pillage the treasury.
Addressing safeguards pointed to by the President and Vice President such as the use of the Public Accounts Committee, Patterson said “we have already seen how they have used their majority to stymie the work of the public accounts committee.” He said by the time that body gets a chance to look at the spending by government for 2022 it would already be 2026, “so that is not an option for us, absolutely bad for the country.”

Patterson in recognising the voting strength of the ruling party told media operatives he is of the view that the lawyers in his party would be seeking to quickly file a court action. “All their economic policies have failed so the last resort they have is to raid the NRF, so I do hope that we can do a legal challenge; maybe by law we can stop them from putting their hands on the money but they are desperate to get their hands on the money.”

AFC Leader Ramjattan, in expressing his disagreement with the Bill told media operatives that it should be a case where the ‘politicos’ will be dealing with the revenues to be had from the sale of oil in Guyana. Referencing the administration’s argument that the monies would first be deposited into the treasury and as such would be subjected to Parliamentary Scrutiny, the AFC leader pointed to the vagueness of aspects of the bill, such as provisions for emergency financing. To this end, he argued “these things could be better had by a macro economic committee and a transparency and oversight committee.’

POLITICAL ACTION

According to Ramjattan, “now the definitions are going to be totally in the hands of the executive branch, Ashni Singh, Irfaan (Ali) and Bharrat Jagdeo.”
This he suggested, leaves ways open, for the individuals deciding on giving another $250,000 to sugar workers as emergency spending and that this would be catered for in the law. According to Ramjattan, given the reality of the parliamentary make up, there was every likelihood the Bill would have been passed and as such his party will be exploring the legal avenues within which the legislation can be challenged in the court of law.
He did concede, that the constitution does provide for what is called law making by the Parliament and as such is empowered to pass the law. To this end, he suggested exploring researching the constitution with a view of challenging the PPP’s law based on its constitutionality. Unless this can be proven, Ramjattan said “you can’t really litigate against the Act.”

LEGAL ACTION

Referencing calls by civil society bodies to put a pause on the Bill’s passage, Ramjattan questioned rhetorically, “why you decreasing our oversight; look at the regime, the first year all US$500M could come out of the bloody thing.” He went further to say that the Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo has disingenuously been pointing to a mandate, from its election manifesto, to pass the Bill saying, “it is a shameless thing to now go and argue the case that we had made a promise to the people and the people voted us in to now go and dilute so drastically, the NRF Bill so that you can spend as you want.” Forde in speaking to the media also raised the spectre of exploring the possibilities of legal challenges to the legislation, since in its present form it can be seen as a mechanism for a complete wipeout of the resources, the resources that are going to be coming and be putting in the fund over the next couple of years.

Another Member of Parliament, Amanza Walton-Desir, lamented the ‘carte blanche’ spending that is now being provided to the government using the Natural Resources Fund. “They are free to withdraw the money, so they don’t care about any of that, what they care about is getting their hands on this money.”
Speaking to an equally egregious provision in the Bill, Walton-Desir noted that “as soon as it is passed, the government can withdraw 100 percent of the funds currently in the natural resources fund.” That means, she said, “that if we allow this bill to be signed into law immediately they are going to drain every cent from the NRF; why are they doing this, this bill has received widespread criticism from every quarter but you have a government in office who is bent on running roughshod over the hues and cry of the Guyanese population.”

SUNLIGHT REPLACED WITH DARKNESS
Guyanese, she warned, have to be aware of what’s happening in that the government has essentially removed all of the safeguards that were in the previous Bill, “what that means is that they will be withdrawing without any oversight, without any concern with whether it causes hyper inflation.”

Former Government Minister, Ronald Bulkan, told media operatives “this bill is a travesty, it is taking Guyana down the wrong road, it is moving away from transparency.” He reasoned that what the PPP/C’s Bill does is to remove “the sunlight that exists in the current Natural Resources Act and it is replacing that sunlight with darkness.” As such, he contends that the bill “violates what is known as the Santiago Principles to which this administration committed to in the manifesto among others; the Santiago Principles among other things says it is the owners of the resource who have to decide how it will be spent.”
According to Bulkan, the owners of Guyana’s wealth “as we all know is not a government, it is not a political party, it’s not the coalition nor is the PPP; the owners representatives are represented in the National Assembly.”
Newly Elected PNCR Leader, Aubrey Norton, who also joined in with the protestors, described the situation as akin to putting a cat to watch milk. “They don’t care about proper governance systems, they don’t care about future generations, they are prepared to change the law, to be able to take as much money however they want, regardless of what they want it for and leave future generations in poverty.”

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Comments

  • brandli62  On 01/02/2022 at 3:45 pm

    Too late and too timid of an attempt to stop the passing of the NRF bill. I have been warning for months that this will happen…..

    • theonly  On 01/06/2022 at 6:05 pm

      YOU ARE A TROUBLE MAKER, you dont even live here and you trying to divide us, and dont come back here. BTW (drill and pump baby) cant wait for my people to be back in POWER.

      • brandli62  On 01/07/2022 at 4:15 am

        Theonly, do not come crying later that you had no idea what was going on…

        If you were to follow the local news outlets, you might have seen all the critical opinions voiced by local Guyanese about the art and manner the new NRF bill was rushed through parliament. However, you might be living in your own bubble and thus you might have missed things.

        By the way, I do not know where you are actually living. It actually does not matter to me, since living abroad does not disqualify Guyanese from voicing an opinion. In fact, they might bring in a different perspective to things. Just think about this point for a moment.

  • wally n  On 01/07/2022 at 12:58 pm

    Actually, Guyanese intelligent,qualified,all having the same concern for the land of their birth, with open minds, can bring experience and a global perspective.It is an opportunity lost,if their voices are ignored, just be thankful.
    A Guyanese is a Guyanese is a….

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