Gov’t committed to maximising benefits for Guyanese despite lopsided Exxon contract – AG Nandlall

Although the terms of the existing contract with oil giant ExxonMobil are not ideal, Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Mohabir Anil Nandlall, SC, said the government is bound to the legal agreement and is striving for the best outcomes for the nation.

Speaking with the Department of Public Information (DPI) on Saturday, the AG recalled the ‘nefarious’ environment in which the 2016 agreement was signed.

The fiscal terms of the 2016 Product Sharing Agreement (PSA) outline that Guyana receives two per cent of all petroleum produced and sold as royalty, with a 75 per cent cost recovery ceiling.

According to the legal affairs minister, in the first place, a prudent government would have employed the intellect and expertise of industry experts to assist in the negotiation process.

However, he said this was not done by the previous APNU+AFC Coalition Government, and the agreement was negotiated and signed by the subject minister.

“We don’t have on record, and no one has ever placed on record any expert advice, any expert service sought or offered,” he said.

Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Mohabir Anil Nandlall, SC

He even reminded that the contract was signed without prior public consultations or announcements to the National Assembly.

“Not only did they sign the contract, they hid it from the Guyanese people. We were not even told in the parliament that they are negotiating this contract. No consultations of any kind were held…the people of Guyana were kept in the dark. A year after the contract was signed, it was made public after information was leaked and…We discovered the contract,” Minister Nandlall stressed.

Once discovered, the AG recalled with dismay that a US$18 million signature bonus was granted to the then government, which was not made public, or deposited in the Consolidated Fund as the constitution stipulates.

“The constitution of Guyana says that all monies received by and on behalf of Guyana must be deposited in the Consolidated Fund, and can only be withdrawn from the consolidated fund through a parliamentary process. This money was never deposited in the Consolidated Fund, and was never reported to the parliament,” the minister emphasised.

Against this backdrop, he stated that the 2016 contract also prevents any attempts by the government to alter or rescind its terms without the consent of the contractor.

“We didn’t sign this, but we are bound by it,” the AG emphasised.  

Meanwhile, recognising that private investment is a critical driver of economic growth in Guyana, the AG said scrapping the 2016 agreement would communicate to foreign investors that Guyana is not a stable environment for investment, negatively affecting its economic growth.

Today, Guyana is one of the most sought-after investment destinations, according to Minister Nandlall, and this speaks volumes about the government’s efforts to cultivate a stable, enabling economic environment.

“You are seeing investors here from all parts of the globe. Right now, we have about 10 five-star branded hotels, all under construction. Do you think these investors, who have hotels all over the world, would have come to Guyana if they were not satisfied that there is stability, that there is a government that will honour the law and comply with its contractual obligations?” he reasoned.

Foreign investments such as these promote modernisation, and job creation, among other benefits. 

Importantly, since assuming office, the government has remained keen on making the best of the situation and fostering opportunities for growth and development for all Guyanese.

These measures include the Local Content Act, which lays out 40 areas in the services sector that oil and gas companies and their subcontractors must procure locally.

Already, the act has led to the employment of over 6,000 Guyanese, and is undergoing a comprehensive review to tackle existing loopholes.

In addition to this, the government has crafted a new model PSA which includes a 10 per cent royalty rate and 65 per cent cost recovery ceiling.

Already, countless opportunities are opening up for training in the oil and gas arena, to ensure Guyanese are qualified to take up key positions in the sector.