IN DEFENSE OF OIL

Guyana, Oil, Exxon,Corruption

“Matters not if Guyana secured a good or bad deal, we got a deal…time to move on” – Finance Minister Winston Jordan, on oil.

Maybe on other matters, this swashbuckling declaration might have garnished the Minister some affirmation but he was referring to a company whose earnings are greater than his country’s Gross Domestic Product  and wields more economic power than his country does on the world stage…. even though it’s a corporation.

These are the archetypal characteristics of the modern day imperialist, the meta nationalist giant with an extension of economic tentacles that makes it Stateless but effectively resident in the country whose resources is adding to its economic stature.

We’ll be honest enough to acknowledge that the paradox of Nature’s richness and technological poverty could only be bridged, resolved, with the machinery, industry expertise and financial outlay that the Exxon’s ride in to virgin resources with.

But let’s not be naïve, overwhelmed by some goal, some presumed ideological advantage, that dropping our pants and offering our proverbial posterior to an entity that prefers this port of entry –to keep the analogy going- will create an ease in relationship that will be of greater benefit to Guyana than to Exxon Hess, China National Off Shore Oil Corp and the other entities drilling our oil.

There are copious records, sanctions, even fines levied against these inviduate companies because they are often seen more as resource rapists than extractors.  Transparency International and the World Bank are amongst the ethics monitors that admonish the primitive practices of these entities that are granted the right to kerfuffle by rambunctious politicians who seem to think that national interest and private advantage are benign characteristics peculiar to their governance.

And just in case they forgot to pay attention, this might be a good time to spotlight the fact that phrases like ‘almost perfect kleptocracy’ and ‘scale of systemic corruption’ often punctuate narratives that discuss the presence of Exxon Hess, China National Off Shore Oil Corp, with words like murky, bribe scheme and resource rich, as supporting adjectives.

There are some who say that the keeper of the nation’s purse, the Minister of Finance,  may have been made giddy after the trip, undoubtedly arranged by Exxon, to witness at its Headquarters –the Exxon Campus no less- the trappings of opulence that come with the label oil- rich.

But, we would like to think that with all that has been exposed about how these meta national giants think of the politicians of oil-rich nations – as woefully unsophisticated owners of geographically misplaced wealth- they would have readied themselves to meet with these moguls who have built lucrative careers through a financial bastion with annual revenues that are higher than the GDP of many countries.

Exxon is recalled for its invidious meddling in politics, with the now infamous horn locking between the World Bank and Chad and its dictator’s desire for more guns to keep the population servile and subservient.

World Bank said no, citing good governance clauses.

Dictator said yes, or I’ll kick your Exxon out of my country.

Exxon said, Mr. Marc Wall, American Ambassador to Chad, remember the huge donations we give to your Republican Party and all those charitable donations we make in its name.

Dictator got his guns, Exxon got its oil and the rest of the world got to see that preserving the flow of oil and its attendant wealth was more important to the oil extractor than some random African lives and some nation -building experiment the World Bank was conducting to show its declared compassion on poverty -stricken resource rich countries.

The political moral here should not go unheeded – that ‘get  the oil at call costs’ thing, even if we circumvent the morality pledge that we signed.

Exhale.

We’re told that the trip to Exxon’s Head Quarters  included the nation’s Foreign Minister who was once the keeper of the nation’s purse and thought that any statement coming out of the current Finance Minister would have been tempered by the experience and diplomacy of the Foreign Minister. Maybe there is a lil poetic parallel here between Greenidge and Tillerson – Greenidge grappling with oil and Tillerson trundling through politics. Whatever it is, Exxon’s track record of prevailing, particularly over what is coined as primitive exuberance, is just the kind of oil-induced reaction the company expects from its comparatively inexperienced negotiators who may just be malleable enough, pliable enough, to re write petroleum codes and tax laws to favor the extractors  … but not so much the financial returns of the host country when the inevitable increase in dollar value occurs…to the detriment of other exports…whose prices will increase if the value of the dollar increases … a whole other Economics and Finance conversation.

Steuups…we hear it…

…that and the reflexive backhanded remarks about that dabbling Diaspora.

Maybe this is all we’ll get to do; judging from the grudging incidental engagement that is Diaspora contact.  And if so, let’s do it with the competence and commitment we would have employed if we were fully engaged.

So let’s look at the President’s Petroleum Advisor, another person who supped at the Exxon dinner table with the recent visiting contingent… Dr. Jan Mangal, an eminently qualified professional with matching executive experience… and his hissing excoriation disguised as an explanation about his proximity to the country’s oil contract, his sardonic salute to those curious about its content and a self- important stab at some snotty advice for journalists to ‘become more adept…ask about or acknowledge the mitigation measures which are in place’.

It’s the kind of opportunistic sophistry that we have to call out – you know, an attempt to use the allegations that can be easily proven as false to slip in other statements you would like to be accepted as fact… a tactic that hardly escapes the investigative journalist – particularly when the challenge comes down the upturned nose of the challenger, in a spasm of obvious vanity.

… ask about or acknowledge the mitigation measures which are in place he posits, as he looks down on the court yard of the groundlings.

It would be easier, we’re thinking, if that specific information were shared without solicitation so as to avoid the speculation of wrong doing that is clearly so irksome to this guy; that made him deploy the kind of moral grandstanding he felt would kill any further speculation, more questions about the contract negotiated with companies with iniquitous contract track- records.

Politics becomes amusing when politicians and their agents become theatrical with high-minded gestures.

They also do not appear to have asked any of the oil companies operating in Guyana if they have perceived or experienced any resulting conflict… brandishes Mangal

… so we over here did and found that, not surprisingly, Tullow Oil PLC has the same soiled contract negotiation reputation as Exxon.

And the other one, Eco Atlantic Oil and Gas is billed as a junior exploration company formed as a service arm of Tullow Oil and boasts of Guyana as its most exciting asset on its web site…who would blame them?!

Hmm.

Looking, as prudent people are disinclined to do, on the bright side, there are a few vagrant reasons for cheerfulness amongst Guyanese who are trying to track their patrimony… blessed by the fact that their country is a well –spring of natural resources but a veritable malediction when the Exxon’s and Tullow’s come a- calling on politicians who prefer to negotiate the nation’s wealth in private…a situation that has caused grotesque inflation, a poverty rate of 43% and an entrenched ethnic cleavage under the past dictatorial governments, healthily criticized for back room dealing by this current government when it was in Opposition.

And this may have elicited Dr. Mangal’s other high brow castigation of those who dared to think that his, make no mistake, eminently qualified brother Lars Mangal and his company Totaltec, established in 2016 to service Guyana’s oil drilling needs, was anything but a clean business deal ….

…a suspicion Jan Mangal thought should have been inconceivable because President Granger has been clear that his priority is for the oil and gas resource to benefit the Guyanese people without corruption…..  the mitigation measures which are in place…”

Maybe Dr. Mangal doesn’t know that Guyana is suspected of corruption because of its reputation for corruption…. and much of that resembles what he and his brother are involved in .

The resource extractor contractual agreement has historically been a dicey game; not always flat out bribery but with much of its reptilian relatives in play – like  companies being formed for the sake of extracting resources when resource extraction is about to begin, the award of non tendered contracts to friends and family, all with the proclamations of false populism by politicians already tainted by the prospect of wealth.

The general cry is for evidence of Tender Offer, so wouldn’t it be to the Government’s advantage to explain the Restricted Tendering/Sole Source Contract that is offered strictly to providers of highly skilled and peculiar services or the Two Stage Tender Offer which looks for the best price for services needed …all of which fall under the Laws of Guyana ?

Why all the drama and ‘Lodge’- like secrecy when clear articulation could never be a disadvantage? What’s up with all the cloak and dagger, the mastering of the minutiae of keeping “the country’s oil contract business from the world”?

Wouldn’t it be better to keep an already wavering electorate informed,  instead of flexing the political law of the jungle with a one-seat majority, balancing precariously with circus- level anxiety in this uneasy Coalition?

Hard questions these aren’t and their answers should be the platform upon which statements relating to this new industry should be predicated. And though Jan Mangal may not have been hired as a politician, it may be good to let him know this, so that he could start his assumptions of the people’s knowledge of how this oil thing works at the first rung of the ladder; especially since the information remains sat upon like a lil oil autocracy. The man may be cerebral, cultured and cosmopolitan ….all virtues that mean nothing if you can’t talk to the people who own the oil.

The autocracy reference goes back to the statements of government officials and now, more recently, that of the Minister of Finance . If he were purchasing a car, say,we doubt that he would be so cavalier about the deal he made; would conclude that it mattered not and would have moved on…if he were spending his own money.

We shouldn’t have to remind government officials whose rights they represent and that the rights of the people supersede those of  party or person.

We shouldn’t be impatient with the anxiety of the population over its curiosity about  the oil boon. ..  a population that suffers a 43%poverty rate, a 12.5%% unemployment rate, with a higher rate in the Afro Guyanese community because of systemic ethnic exclusion. Their demands for information is understandable and should be respected by those who hold that information. Theirs is a history of being shafted by resource extractors because of contracts that were done in boiler rooms. Last we heard, 325 of the 670 jobs currently available have been given to Guyanese and 140 Guyanese vendors have registered to do business with the oil extractors… in the face of a multi-billion barrel potential.

The descent into Dystopia is not their desire, was never an inheritance, really, save the legacy of errant politicians who fattened themselves and other Philistines at the cost of the people and their wealth.

So they’re  resisting the usual order of business, refusing to be  partner in the political kabuki that dances to the tune of foreign investment.

Shouldn’t be too difficult this time, since the information on all the players is open, notorious and present.

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