OP-ED | A proposal to establish the Guyana Petroleum Institute

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By Joe Corrigan

THIS is a proposal asking the people of Guyana to consider the merits of creating a not-for-profit Guyana Petroleum Institute (GPI) to support resource development in the public interest.

I propose a model based upon the Canadian Petroleum Institute (circa 1993-2006) model, and that is guided by an international vision and mandate to advance resource production in the interests of all Guyanese people. That institute was governed by a working Board of Directors representing stakeholder interests from civil society, industry and government. This proposal is offered on the understanding it is the people of Guyana that will decide which policy vehicles will be most effective in navigating a way through the challenges of an expanding petroleum industry.

At precisely the moment when the capacity of various governmental departments, ministries and the national leadership are being exhausted by growing international interest, activity and the regulatory demands of bringing production online (New York Times, July 20, 2018), Guyana needs to look beyond its borders and at least 15 years into the future. Guyana already has highly respected institutions of higher learning and the University of Guyana has announced a Master’s in Petroleum Engineering beginning in 2019.

This is not a duplication of that fine initiative or the good work being done elsewhere by other universities, technical institutions or even private sector suppliers. These groups are preparing the people of Guyana to do the hard work of producing petroleum resources. Guyana participates in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative ( https://eiti.org/guyana ), and both a national petroleum corporation (Chronicle, May 20, 2018) and a sovereign wealth fund (Chronicle, September 13, 2018) are already being discussed. This proposal is something quite different.

The director of the new institute should be a Guyanese who is widely respected, industrious, and who already has substantive technical or managerial experience in Guyana’s petroleum industry. For optimal impact, the GPI should be non-partisan and operate with an international mandate to become self-sustaining financially after an initial five year start-up period. The new leader will work to attract base-funding agreements from stakeholder organizations and develop a strategy for revenue generation based upon services provided to domestic and international clients. The first goal must be to develop base funding support and a viable 5-year financial plan that will allow the institute to operate with independence and transparency toward horizon goals.

A small but tireless and technology savvy secretariat is needed. Meeting and learning space should be rented as needed, and operating office space might be provided by a judiciously selected stakeholder organization and accounted for as a contribution in-kind. The time, attention and financial resources taken up constructing a new facility would be a financial burden and distraction from the primary challenge of proving the GPI has a lasting contribution to make.

What I have described so far is the model of an institute that worked well in Canada, but whatever form a new GPI might take in Guyana, it should focus on Guyana’s future and place in the World. In the spirit of that shared public interest, I suggest at least 3 areas of focus, including (1) equity and inclusion initiatives designed to ensure all Guyanese benefit from resource production, (2) international networking, and (3) enhancing the technical capacities required for Guyana’s proprietor role.

A first focus of the new GPI should be to integrate, resource and mobilize equity initiatives in the form of networks, courses, outreach programs, and advocacy required to enact the values and principles contained within the Preamble of The Constitution of Guyana (1980). The GPI can be a public and transparent way in which industry offers tangible support to ensure all Guyanese people benefit from resource development. Following Canadian High Commissioner Lilian Chatterjee’s call for the continued growth of gender equity (Guyana Chronicle, March 8, 2019) policy in Guyana, I ask the reader to consider naming a GPI Board of Directors constituted by equal numbers of women and men. I believe in this simple and symbolic act, the future would be made brighter for all of Guyana’s people. The GPI must be an independent entity capable of modelling and championing social and economic policy leadership.

A secondary but critical function of the GPI should be to serve as an international node and network service cluster offering training, conferencing and other revenue generating services to international and domestic clients. This calls for a strategic leader, able to use the learning space to attract and encourage a rich variety of industry and other prospective partners in servicing Guyana’s market requirements. For the new GPI to advance public policy interests thru programs and projects, it needs to seek out international partners that can contribute in building-up Guyana. In addition to information gathering and connectivity that will keep Guyana’s leadership plugged-in, it will be a conduit for Guyana to gain regional influence and advance interests beyond its borders.

Third, and with great respect for the highly committed and talented professionals who have advanced Guyana’s interests so far, there is need for additional human and technology capacity building. For example, the Government of Guyana will benefit from a confident in-house ability to model current production sharing agreements and conduct comparative analyses with nearby or competing fiscal regimes. This will support international negotiations, assist in the setting of domestic tax policy and aid in governmental financial management. As another example, Part VII of the Petroleum (Exploration and Production) Act (#3, 1986) describes an array of data to be provided the Government of Guyana from drilling operations. Taking custody of that information is one matter, but storing core samples, organising well logs and other data, and then making these and other data sets retrievable for analysis is another. On the regulatory and environmental side, it is one matter to have a law on the books, yet another to establish systems sufficient to identify or detect non-compliance, and yet another to administer a penalty for an infraction. The GPI can play a lead role in optimizing the outcomes of these and other capacity building projects by leading the implementation of a unified or common stakeholder framework.

I hope and trust that a made in Guyana institute can build on the Canadian Petroleum Institute experience and help to build a greater Guyana. At the helm, you need an exceptional and industrious Guyanese leader who will be non-partisan, forward looking, consultative and beyond reproach. This individual should help select a stakeholder board ready to roll up sleeves, and working through the organizations they represent, generously contribute time, financial resources and entrée to the new entity. While the pressure of increasing activity and imminent production draws focus and attention internally, I believe the people of Guyana must look outward and at least 15 years into the future. A well constituted GPI will articulate Guyanese values, enhance Guyana’s international influence and develop additional technical capacities that will serve Guyana’s next generations.
(Joe Corrigan served as the Vice-President of the Canadian Petroleum Institute from 2000-2006. He recently graduated (2017) with a doctorate in Education, Administration & Leadership from the University of Alberta. He can be reached at joe.corrigan@ualberta.ca .)