Burdened with, what is widely regarded as one of the most lopsided and one-sided agreements ever executed in recent memory the Government has been forced to make one absurd disclosure after another, in its feeble attempt to defend the Petroleum Agreement – something that is simply indefensible. So, only last week the Minister of Business said that the Government would ignore the voices of a “tiny minority”, who are critical of the contract. Whereas, the truth is, apart from Cabinet Ministers, almost every organisation in Guyana and every major commentator are on public record, making condignly critical remarks about the contract. The position is no different among the ordinary citizens, including, supporters of the Government.
At the beginning of this week, the nation is forced to endure another bizarre disclosure – this time from Minister Raphael Trotman. Minister Trotman is quoted in Stabroek News April 2, 2018, “Government will make impromptu visit to oil operations if warranted”, with another absurd byline, “says GRA has right to instant inspection”.
My first observation is to question Minister Trotman’s mandate and authority to speak on this matter, when it is public knowledge that the oil and gas portfolio was removed from him and placed under the purview of the Ministry of the Presidency. Minister Trotman is exposing himself to being accused of trespassing upon another’s ministerial portfolio.
However, that aside, how does Minister Trotman conceive the Government making impromptu visits to the oil operations, when the contract expressly and specifically provides that the Minister, through his duly appointed representative, must give at least seven days notice before they can be allowed to observe the petroleum operations conducted by the contractor. This clause is expressed in very clear and unambiguous language. It means exactly what it says, that is, the contractor is entitled, as of right, under the contract, to seven days notice before any visit can be made by the Minister or those authorized by the Minister. What this means is that the Government may attempt impromptu visits, but unless that seven days notice is given in the manner provided for by the contract, the contractor reserves the right to prevent the Government access to the operations.
Is Minister Trotman saying that the Government will not respect, obey and comply with its contractual obligations? Is Minister Trotman saying that the Government will breach, violate and disregard its contractual duties? The better thing for Mr. Trotman to have done is to admit that the Government is in a conundrum from which it cannot extricate itself.
More significantly, when the clause, which requires the seven days notice is read, in conjunction with other related clauses, one gets the clear impression that the collective intent of the contract, is to prevent the Government from accessing certain type of data, in respect of the oil operations. For example, even where the seven days notice is given, they are express prohibitions against the Minister interfering with the petroleum operations and there are a whole host of records and reports, which are deemed “confidential” and to which the Minister has no access. Mr. Trotman’s comparing the petroleum contract to that of a simple landlord and tenant contract, is quite unfortunate. It does not help his case. The petroleum contract is obviously sui generis.
As regards the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA), Minister Trotman’s statement is even more bewildering. No taxes are chargeable on the oil operations or any activity connected therewith, either done by the contractor, or its affiliates, or its subsidiaries. The contract exempts the entire operations from every form of taxation. As a result, GRA has no business inspecting those operations. It is Mr. Trotman’s contract that has removed GRA completely from the oil operations, and that is one of the major planks of criticism against the contract. Minister Trotman refers to the laws of Guyana, giving GRA the power to carry out “instant inspection”. That is indeed so, except that those laws do not apply to this contract, because Mr. Trotman and his Government, in their wisdom, in the contract itself, exempt these laws from applying. I would advise that clause 15 of the contract and other related clauses be carefully read, so that one can appreciate the large volume of taxation and by extension laws, which do not apply to the oil operations.
The least the Government says about this contract the better.