Poor han­dling of Oil in­dus­try could put nation at risk - Jagdeo

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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.

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