O&G concerns, suggestions shared at Civil Society forum

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Participants of the ‘Open Space’ discussion voting on what areas of focus within the Oil and Gas sector they would like to discuss [Delano Williams photo]

CITIZENS were able to express their concerns and share suggestions for the developing oil and gas sector as local civil society group joined hands to foster an open space for discussions and collaborative thinking.

On Saturday, at the Marian Academy, civil society groups: Policy Forum Guyana, Transparency International Guyana Inc (TIGI) and the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) hosted a platform for discussions on the topic: “Fathoming the future: What to do about Oil and Gas.”

Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Specialist Lawrence Lachmansingh [Delano Williams photo]
“It’s a heavy topic, but the aim is to get- from this process and similar processes in the future- a consensus from Guyanese on what type of future we would like to have as we move into this new era,” Executive Member of the GHRA Kerry Anne Kansinally said.

According to her, the idea of the forum was to provide a space where members of civil society could openly express how they feel about the developing industry and how they believe that revenues should be spent to effect a better life for all Guyanese.

Saturday’s forum took an ‘Open Space’ setting which, according to the GHRA Executive, is like a “marketplace of discussions.” “The agenda is set by the participants in the group,” she explained, adding: It’s an opportunity for people to learn and share ideas.”

The aim of the forum was to gather this information from participants through a series of democractic steps. Upon arrival, participants were immediately asked to detail some areas of focus in the sector. This was compiled and displayed for everyone to see, and then all participants would have voted for the areas of focus they were most interested in discussing. Subsequently, they divided themselves into breakout groups focusing on the topics of their choice.

At the forum, diversification through the oil and gas sector, oil spill preparedness, political readiness, corruption and greater education were among some of the areas of focus advanced by the participants.

Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Specialist Lawrence Lachmansingh, who is currently a consultant for TIGI, also explained that the forum was fashioned in this way so that it would be as inclusive as possible. “It’s very democratic in the sense that everyone who enters this room had the opportunity to say what their top priorities were and then when all of those were placed on a board, they could subsequently vote for the topics they wanted to discuss,” he said.

And through this process, persons come up with positive recommendations themselves and when those are collected, they would be further distilled to identify what the major priorities are.
“Whatever comes out from this we will be responsible afterwards to see how we will make it happen,” he said as well.

Illustrating this aim, Lachmansingh explained that if there is a consensus that there should be greater focus on the environmental aspects of the emerging sector, the recommendations given in this regard will be assessed, filtered and subsequently, worked on. The civil society groups would work to structure tangible projects that could deal with this. But Lachmansingh also drew attention to the leeway the forum provides for continuity. He stated that what a session like this does is start a conversation which will continue to happen, even as the bodies seek to operationalise whatever the priorities advanced are.

“It’s a process with no immediate ‘next steps’,” Kansinally said too. Instead, she explained, similar sessions will be held in an attempt to continuously gather information. “We will show and highlight the main recommendations or priorities that people feel oil and gas should be addressing and we can start deciding how to move from there,” the woman posited.

GOVERNANCE AGENDA

One of the breakout discussions at Saturday’s forum on the Oil and Gas sector

For TIGI specifically, it is expected that a governance agenda could be crafted out of the discussions had. “Overarchingly, we want to fashion the agenda to include what people in society want done [vis a vis oil and gas and its governance] and if this is what people want the body will then fashion projects to match that,” President of the Transparency Institute of Guyana Inc. (TIGI), Dr. Troy Thomas said.

He explained that through funding from the Open Society to do the planning aspect of creating that agenda, the body worked in collaboration with the GHRA and Policy Forum on this Open Space. Dr. Thomas noted that the aim behind this was to begin creating an oil and gas agenda, focusing particularly on governance, that civil society would be able to execute.

This encompasses taking the suggestions made by citizens and members of civil society determining how these can be fashioned into legitimate projects, which funding can be sought for their implementation. Take for example, citizens want to rigorously monitor a specific process within the oil and gas industry; a project could be crafted around to allow for an independent regulatory body to do so.

“As simple as those ideas are, when they [the participants] discuss them, they will go into an agenda and it is our job to fashion it in a way that works overall and seek funding to execute them,” the TIGI head said. He also noted that in crafting this agenda, the forum allows for the body to identify its potential partners. What this means is that based on what are the areas people want greater focus on, the civil society bodies would then approach the relevant stakeholders to chart the way forward.