THE government is working towards the re-tabling of the Petroleum Commission Bill, faulty in many ways, within a timeline of four to six months.
This was conveyed to the Guyana Chronicle by Natural Resources Minister, Vickram Bharrat, who also said that the elaborate powers given the natural resources minster under the bill, will be reviewed.
Even the former administration had admitted in 2018 that the powers vested in the responsible minister was “too much” after such was argued by the former opposition, now government, in Parliament.
In 2017, former Minister of Natural Resources, Raphael Trotman, tabled the Petroleum Commission of Guyana Bill of 2017 during the 64th sitting of the 11th Parliament.
The bill, which is the legislative architecture for the Petroleum Commission of Guyana, was to be taken to a Special Select Committee at a later sitting of the National Assembly after its second reading. However, to date, it has not yet been passed.
President Dr. Irfaan Ali, while an opposition Parliamentarian, had argued: “When we examine Section Eight, which deals with the power of the minister to give directions to the commission, it is clear that the commission will hardly be able to work without the direction and control of the minister. According to Section Eight, the minister is not only allowed to provide policy guidance, but also give direction to the commission regarding size of the establishment, the employment of staff and the terms and conditions of employment.”
Through the Guyana Chronicle’s research, the bill, in fact, speaks to the ‘minister’ 100 times in total. Apart from what was mentioned by Ali, the minister could also determine what is deemed as “good oilfield practice”; approve, amend or reject the plans, proposals, reports, analyses, data and any other information submitted by an applicant or operator and direct that the commission perform “any other function as assigned” among others.
Section Five(d) lists one of the duties of the commission as being expected to “carry out any directions of the minister given under Section Eight” and Section Eight lists seven categories of directives that the minister may give the to the commission.
In an interview with this newspaper, Minister Bharrat detailed what should be expected from the commission, likely to be established by early 2021.
“It’s an independent commission, free of political interference because the previous Petroleum Commission Bill or the one that was tabled, that one actually gave minsters too much power. Actually, the minister could have usurped all the powers of the commission. So, not because we’re on the opposite side now we’ll support that, we don’t support it. We believe that the minister should not have that amount of power; that the sector should be depoliticised as much as possible,” he said.
It was President Ali, in his inauguration speech on August 8, who announced that his government has plans to set up a Petroleum Commission to insulate the oil and gas sector from political interference.
With Guyana heading back to Parliament today, progress begins towards finalising the 2020 budget which will further pave the way for crucial bills to be debated.
Minister Bharrat said: “It has to go back to Parliament. We would have given it a timeline for four to six months and that is what we’re working with. We have to get through this budget period and then, I’m sure, we’ll retable the Petroleum Commission Bill.”