Poor handling of Oil industry could put nation at risk - Jagdeo
Raphael Trotman’s verbal outburst in the National Assembly was deemed as “fatuous antics”, by Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo at a press conference and was intended to cover up his incompetence and lack of knowledge on subject matters relating to his ministry, as well as economics and finance.
The Minister came in for heavy criticisms during the debate in the Assembly on the Petroleum Bill to deal with issues relating to the management of the oil sector when ExxonMobil starts pumping oil sometime after 2020.
The former President, in his presentations, pointed to the risks the nation could face if no proper assessment is made of the oil industry. He said the rosy picture being painted by the government as it relates to benefits flowing from oil is not in keeping with reality and criticized the government for neglecting traditional sectors.
Jagdeo said his presentation had angered the minister, and this had led the minister to behave in a manner “improper” for a sitting Member of Parliament (MP).
Jagdeo also observed that Speaker of the National Assembly, Dr Barton Scotland, did not attempt to reprimand the minister, but had instead allowed him to continue with his rantings.
The former Head of State said he has always regarded Trotman as a mediocre lawyer and that he was “smarting from the exposure of his incompetence. Rather than trying to defend it, he descended into his antics”..
Jagdeo recalled that Trotman had attempted to get the Speaker
to have him barred from speaking, and when that did not work, “because he knows of his own deficiency — he cannot respond without somebody writing a brief for him to those matters that were raised in the debate,” he started to attack him.
“Being incapable of responding to technical and economic analysis, what do you do? You descend into this fatuous antic that he displayed in the Parliament. I’ve never seen somebody’s face contorted with rage as he has displayed in Parliament. He was shaking uncontrollably and largely because he felt incompetent and exposed, so he went after me,” the Opposition Leader said.
“Trotman has been trying to carefully cultivate an image of efficiency, reasonableness; that he is sophisticated, suave, and he is above the fray. I believe he is slick, inefficient, and one of the most hostile people in the APNU/AFC coalition; and this behaviour is the real Trotman. What you saw there, we’ve seen it on the street corners and in many places.” Generally speaking about the Government’s posture and general mode of response to criticisms about policies and programmes that are highly questionable, Jagdeo said they have become “this very touchy when you expose their incompetence and their lack of vision for Guyana.” In reflecting on some of the points he had made during Thursday’s debate in Parliament, Jagdeo told the local media that his presentation was based on facts that the Government was unwilling to accept; and instead of taking the statements as a piece of advice, they decided to attack him.
Jagdeo mentioned that he was basically advising the Government to paint an entire picture of the prospects and opportunities of oil and gas, as well as the risks associated with that new industry. “When we pointed out the risks, they said that’s the profit of doom, but that is a realistic assessment of what could be prospects or negatives of the industry,” the Opposition Leader asserted.
The trained economist stated that Government was focused on emphasizing on the prospect that large sums of money will flow in, because “it suits their narrative of selling hope of a brighter future.” However, he strongly believes that they are doing an inept job of managing the current sectors.
“And that is why they are so hostile and angry about any narrative that tries to paints a balanced picture of the oil industry. Any rightthinking Guyanese can relate to this, because if oil prices can bring large quantities of money, if oil prices globally are very low, then these huge sums of money we are talking about may not materialize for significant periods,” he added.
The former Head of State, pointing to an example, recalled that when the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) left office in 2015, a barrel of crude was US$120. However, within a matter of six months, it had dropped steeply to US$28, before climbing back to US$50 within the last two years.
“So a lot of the profit oil and proceeds are dependent on international prices. Why do you think that Saudi Arabia and many of the other countries in the Middle East had to embark on diversification? Because they were heavily reliant on oil flows, and those are not coming in, and therefore it is decimating their reserves,” Jagdeo said.
Another argument that Jagdeo thinks had angered the minister and coalition Government is the fact that he had raised concerns that there was no clear or wellthought-out assessment of the oil industry in Guyana, yet emphasis was continuously being placed only on the prospects.
Jagdeo argued that if this continues, then the Government could eventually end up destroying the rest of the economy, especially if the socalled brighter future through oil never materialises.
“That is why they are saying we are painting a picture of doom, because we are exposing the underbelly of their arguments: the false hopes that they sell to many people — that oil will resolve everything, and oil has not resolved everything around the world,” he added.
The PPP General Secre- tary also accused the minister of speaking unwisely and foolishly about big projects which most of the technical people recognise are not feasible.
“How can we trust the judgment of a minister who doesn’t understand that you have to do the basic economic feasibility studies — you have to have a purchaser of the service before you make an investment of that nature, and that there is something called opportunity cost?” he further asked.
Touching on another important issue that is often discussed by Trotman: the setting up of a Sovereign Wealth Fund for the oil industry, Jagdeo said that although the Government has not revealed many details about how it would go about setting up this fund, he had suggested that the Norwegian model, which insulates the spending from the political process, be used.