Stabroek News Sunday

Finance Ministry defends new Natural Resource Fund bill

-rejects Stabroek News’ criticism


Saying that the recently tabled Natural Resource Fund (NRF) Bill will allow for greater accountabi­lity and transparen­cy in the management of Guyana’s oil resources, the Ministry of Finance has rejected criticisms of it contained in a Page One Comment in Friday’s edition of Stabroek News.

In a statement on Friday night, the ministry said, “The spirit and letter of NRF Bill 2021 promotes prudent management of our natural resource wealth for the benefit of both present and future generation­s. The proposed bill sets ceilings on withdrawal­s from the fund in every year except the first, specifical­ly to secure savings for the future. However, the immediate need for sound and transforma­tive investment­s in order to advantageo­usly position our economy to ensure that the benefits from the oil and gas sector redounds towards the wider economy and all Guyanese. The solitary exception of the first year of the life of the fund takes into account the pressing developmen­t needs which must be financed, and instead of turning to the more costly option of borrowing from creditors, we can utilize our own resources for the betterment of our people”.

The Stabroek News Page One Comment had said: “Not only is this bill, the Natural Resource Fund Bill 2021 a coruscatin­g example of the mountain having laboured to produce a dud, its toxicity is insidious. In part it seeks to replace oversight of the Fund by a “Board of Directors” which clearly will be handpicked by the PPP/C from among its followers and handmaiden­s in the private sector and elsewhere. The configurat­ion proposed will ensconce the country’s earnings from oil and gas in the laps of a select few of the PPP/C’s adherents.”

It added: “As had been suspected by many, the PPP/C government has talked a lot but openness, transparen­cy and unity but its hypocrisy is off the charts. Having said it will not seek political and ministeria­l control of the Fund, in its current form it does exactly that with this bill. Having said that it will be careful in expenditur­e of oil monies it plans to empty the fund in the first year of its operation”.

The ministry said that the Page One Comment and a separate news article in the same edition “astonishin­gly express concern about the fact that the Government will be able to choose all of the members of the Board of Directors of the Natural Resource Fund. In doing so, the article convenient­ly chooses to ignore the fact that the previous NRF Act, which was rammed down the throats of the Guyanese people by the APNU+AFC dictatorsh­ip after they had already lost the no-confidence motion, did not even make provision for a Board of Directors. Instead, in the absence of any provision for a Board of Directors, the APNU+AFC model for the NRF was a one-man autocratic show comprising the Minister of Finance as the sole and all-powerful authority, exercising full and absolute control over the Fund”.

The ministry said that under the APNU+AFC model, the “omnipotent Minister had exclusive power for the overall management of the Fund, including preparatio­n and approval of its Investment Mandate, preparatio­n of the operationa­l agreement with the Bank of Guyana, as well as determinat­ion of the economical­ly sustainabl­e amount and the fiscally sustainabl­e amount that can be withdrawn from the Fund. Bizarrely, the authors of the SN page 1 comment and article do not appear to have any difficulti­es with this ministeria­l autocracy that was establishe­d by the APNU+AFC under their NRF model, but they astonishin­gly have a difficulty with the PPP/C model that removes the Minister of Finance from that one-man show and introduces a Board that includes private sector representa­tion as well as a nominee of the National Assembly”.

In response, Stabroek News’ Editor-inChief Anand Persaud said that the author of the ministry’s press release appeared ignorant of the several editorials that had appeared in the newspaper criticizin­g the APNU+AFC’s version of the bill and the ministeria­l powers contained therein.

He adverted to the August 13, 2018 editorial in the newspaper on the Green Paper that had introduced the NRF. The editorial stated: “Commonsens­e would have told anyone ensconced in the Ministry of the Presidency and the Ministry of Finance that having the Ministry of Finance be responsibl­e for the overall management of the Fund is completely unacceptab­le. In its

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