Stabroek News

Keeping open the Citizens petition on the Natural Resource Fund Bill: A sign of things to come

- Editor’s Note:

On December 30, 2021, President Irfaan Ali assented to the Natural Resource Fund (NRF) Bill which was controvers­ially passed on Wednesday, 29 December 2021 in the National Assembly. Policy Forum Guyana issued a statement in which they described the consequenc­e of the new Act as enabling the ruling party to become ‘the proprietor­s rather than trustees of the country’s natural resources,’ and emphasized that the parliament­ary Opposition “might have been better served by utilizing its Parliament­ary time to make this point, rather than engage entirely in raucous and disorderly behaviour,” that in this case included verbal abuse of the personal assistant to the Speaker and attempts to seize the mace. Disrupting parliament is neither new nor restricted to just one side of the political aisle, as several have noted – but in such a divided polity as Guyana, political memories are short and only one side is always absolutely right while the other side is utterly demonized. It is a sad and disgusting state of affairs. And this time, the Opposition’s behaviour offered the government a splendid opportunit­y to focus on the disruption – with one Minister going as far as to accuse APNU and AFC members of engaging in terrorist tactics – instead of what is at stake here. The Natural Resource Fund (NRF) Act disregards the majority of the Generally Accepted Principles and Practices (GAPP) of the Internatio­nal Working Group of Sovereign Wealth Funds, known as the Santiago Principles and which have been accepted as a best practices benchmark. Furthermor­e, the NRF Act designates the President and Minister as the entities which control directly the appointmen­t of the committees which direct or oversee the operation of the Act which is absolutely contrary to internatio­nal best practice and also contrary to the PPP’s 2020 election manifesto. Another major aspect is the extraordin­ary level of discretion allowed for access to the resources covered by this Act and the exclusion of Parliament­ary and civil society involvemen­t in the management of this Fund. In addition, the ability to empty the Fund immediatel­y by reference to natural disasters in the last two years amounts to a licence to defraud the people of Guyana.

This unconsulte­d Act is now added to the previous government’s shockingly bad Production Sharing Agreement with Exxon and which the current administra­tion has refused to renegotiat­e despite this being one of their campaign promises. And while the Natural Resource Fund Act does not undo that original crime against the Guyanese people to which both parties must be called to account, it [the predecesso­r Act] was tabled in Parliament in November 2018 after extensive nationwide consultati­on. This process remains an example of the execution of Article 13 of the Guyana Constituti­on that calls for the creation of opportunit­ies for Guyanese citizens to participat­e in the management and decisionma­king processes of the State.

Its undoing by the arrogance of the current administra­tion’s refusal to address calls for consultati­on on the Natural Resources Fund Act (Amendment Bill) is really what should outrage all Guyanese. In an excellent letter published in the January 1 edition of the Stabroek News, Dr. Jerry Jailall described the NRF Bill as “the “mother of all bills” as it provided the framework for accessing and spending the little money we would have going in to that fund from the pathetic 2% royalty and paltry oil profits.”

Asking us to focus on the disgracefu­l conduct of the opposition in Parliament distracts our attention from the disgracefu­l giveaways of both political parties that have allocated concession­s to offshore petroleum tracts for a pittance. And crucially, it distracts our attention from the disgracefu­l conduct of the current government in imposing an NRF Act that gives whoever is in power the keys to the piggy bank with practicall­y no independen­t oversight, and for pushing this through with unseeming haste on the people of Guyana with no debate or consultati­on.

This is what should concern us all. This is not about whether you are PPP or APNU + AFC. Indeed, all those who rightly fought for political democracy during the 2020 elections should be as vociferous about defending the Guyanese people’s right to have a say over their resources and not entrust it to a political elite, any political class in power. In fact the best test of political loyalty is to be able to speak out within your political party. But in Guyana, disagreeme­nt is always interprete­d to mean that you are a traitor, or that you are involved in some plot to remove the government by unlawful means. So any critique becomes a test of your loyalty. There is no space for principled critique from within, and there is certainly no space for independen­t critique, from those who have never voted, or never voted for either of these two political behemoths. The argument that the government was fairly elected and should therefore be entrusted to make all decisions serves only those in power and ignores the government’s one seat majority in Parliament. Who will guard the guards themselves? Such an argument completely ignores the fact that close to half of the electorate is represente­d in parliament by the Opposition political parties – whether or not one agrees with them, should they not have a say? Furthermor­e, why does every single thing in Guyana boil down to political parties? Why are they allowed to monopolise all space in Guyana? The polarisati­on, and the divide and rule games that they enable by their very

(This is one of a series of weekly columns from Guyanese in the diaspora and others with an interest in issues related to Guyana and the Caribbean)

existence, make it extraordin­arily difficult for Guyanese to come together across political camps on anything – from the cost of living to labour rights to domestic abuse to alcohol consumptio­n to suicide, almost everything is overshadow­ed by a political tinge. This time, however, the stakes are extraordin­arily high in a way they have never been before. Forty per cent of Guyanese continue to live below the poverty line of US$5.50 a day, the fortunate ones depending on handouts this holiday season. And our government has just signed a Bill that gives them more or less complete control over how to spend the oil revenues. We can and must do better.

Policy Forum Guyana (PFG) is keeping open the petition that was originally signed by 64 Guyanese and submitted to parliament. Calls for more consultati­on were also made by the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce & Industry, Guyana Bar Associatio­n, Trades Union Congress, the Transparen­cy Institute of Guyana Inc, the Article 13 group, and others. According to their press release of December 30, 2021, PFG “is inviting those citizens who have not yet had the opportunit­y to sign the original Petition to continue to add their names to the Petition. Although it would not serve its original purpose, it would serve to maintain focus on the necessity of consultati­on on the Act. Persons wishing to do so may send their names, together with contact mobile/cell number or address to the PFG email address: policyforu­ or WhatsApp+592-6545323.”

We reproduce the petition below and invite you to add your name. When history is written, how do you want your voice registered for generation­s who have to live with the financial and environmen­tal consequenc­es of the shallow, short-sighted and rapacious behaviour of our political class? To be remembered as one who remained silent? Or as standing up for all Guyanese, as the best example of political integrity and principle?


TO: The National Assembly of the Co-operative Republic of Guyana Public Buildings


TO PAUSE CONSIDERAT­ION of The Natural Resources Fund Act (Amendment Bill)

THE HUMBLE PETITION of we the undersigne­d citizens of Guyana who respectful­ly request the Honourable Members of the National Assembly to pause any debate on the Natural Resources Fund Act (NRFA) until proposed amendments can be considered by non-parliament­ary citizens.

The National Assembly should ensure that the key natural resources of our country, on which the future sustainabl­e developmen­t of Guyana hinges, are managed as required by Article 36 in the National Constituti­on 1980 and so as to maximize the net social benefit.

The purpose of the Petition (Parliament­ary Standing Order 15 (1)

This Petition calls for a pause on any debate on the Natural Resources Fund Act (NRFA) in order that:

The government must fully engage with both the opposition and civil society on amending the NRF Act, with the Natural Resources Sector Committee of Parliament available to facilitate such a process.

The Petitioner­s respectful­ly request the National Assembly to pause the motion to debate amendments to the Natural Resources Fund Act (NRFA) to provide an opportunit­y for the proposed amendments to be made available to citizens of Guyana. Although the intention of the current ruling Party to amend the NRFA has been in the public domain for the past three years, the substance of those amendments has not been made public.

The process of amending the Natural Resource Fund Act (NRFA) represents an opportunit­y to address the absence of a framework of principles to guide articulati­on of Guyana’s specific responsibi­lities required by the constituti­onal directive which states:

“The State shall protect the environmen­t for the benefit of present and future generation­s through reasonable legislativ­e and other measures (Clause 149J (2)”

The case for a pause on the Motion to amend is rooted in:

Article 13 of the Guyana Constituti­on which calls for increasing opportunit­ies for the participat­ion of citizens and their organisati­ons in the management and decisionma­king processes of the State.

the national interest in securing as unified support as possible for this important piece of legislatio­n.

References to the proposed amendments in the media suggest they are substantia­l.

the substantia­l national interest in this Act as demonstrat­ed by the activities detailed below.

The three years of work by civil society, leading up to the Natural Resource Fund (NRF) Bill No. 14 of 2018.

The commitment­s by the ruling Party “to strengthen freedom, establish a firm commitment to democratic traditions whilst framing our priorities to be more inclusive, transparen­t, accountabl­e and more equitable. We will continue to promote good governance, respect for the Constituti­on and the human rights of all Guyanese, while fostering an economic environmen­t where jobs flourish and there is guaranteed income for people” (PPP/C Manifesto, 2020-2025).

“To ensure that our oil resource is managed responsibl­y, the PPP/C will … Establish an arm’s length Sovereign Wealth Fund insulated from political interferen­ce … Establish a regulatory framework which is independen­t of politician­s.” (PPP/C Manifesto, 2020-2025).

“To prevent oil money from being squandered, the PPP/C will among other things: Uphold the Santiago Principles of transparen­cy and accountabi­lity and EITI … Civil society will be involved in a central role to monitor compliance and accountabi­lity.” (PPP/C Manifesto, 2020-2025).


The Natural Resource Fund (NRF) Bill No. 14 of 2018 was tabled in Parliament on November 15, 2018, passed on January 3rd, 2019 and assented to on January 23rd, 2019. Considerin­g that this crucial Bill was debated after the APNU+AFC government had fallen in a motion of no confidence on December 21, 2018, the then opposition PPP/C understand­ably boycotted the second and third readings of the Bill and disavowed any participat­ion in the enlivening of the Act.

The Natural Resources Fund Bill that passed into law on November 2018 had benefitted from the most exhaustive process of scrutiny, consultati­on and discussion in modern parliament­ary history. Internatio­nal expertise was sought and provided from the IMF, the World Bank, Chatham House, the New Producers Group of oil producing countries, a delegation from Ghana, along with the expert opinion of distinguis­hed internatio­nal academics. All experts were made available for engagement with civil society.

Access to the expertise noted above was made available to civil society through facilitati­on by the University of Guyana, contracted for this purpose by the good offices of the Ministry of Finance. The results of these inter-actions have been made available by UG at the following Youtube link:


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Non-Government­al initiative­s in relation to the NRF Bill included:

a series of round-table discussion­s led by Conservati­on Internatio­nal;

a series of open Space meetings by Policy Forum Guyana across the coastal area;

GMSA hosted a special consultati­on; workshops conducted by the University of Guyana; the visit of the Director of the Goa Foundation of India, internatio­nally recognized for its work on the intergener­ational justice dimensions of extractive industries.

Taken together these processes constitute­d the most complete example of the intent of Article 13 since its introducti­on in the Guyana Constituti­on in 2001. This process generated a level of legitimacy which cannot be readily set aside by amendments which have never been made available to citizens. The signatorie­s of this Petition are conscious that despite these prolonged preparator­y activities the resulting Natural Resource Fund Act did not meet expectatio­ns of either the current ruling party or a significan­t cross-section of citizens. Clarificat­ion is also required to ensure the NRF not being used to pay off the commercial debts incurred without prior Parliament­ary oversight.

Guyana is coming under increasing pressure to justify its role as a major fossil fuel producer. Guyana’s relatively negligible carbon footprint is the result of favourable land/population ratios and natural causes, not of explicit policy. Progressiv­e policies (REDD+) have been adopted when financiall­y beneficial and abandoned when not. The current references to prosperity for all Guyanese will quickly require more substantia­l justificat­ion than made available to date.

The focus on ‘prosperity’ rather than equity in the Government’s current narrative on fossil fuels leaves intergener­ational equity (fairness) to the workings of the free market rather than a matter of legal and political principle. Wealth creation is used to justify depletion and degradatio­n of natural resources, commodifyi­ng environmen­tal loss in a manner that undermines the Constituti­onal principle referred to above.

Wherefore your petitioner­s humbly appeal to the National Assembly to accept and adopt this petition to pause any debate on the Natural Resources Fund Act (NRFA) until proposed amendments can be considered by non-parliament­ary citizens.

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