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