‘Put country first’

20 Dec

Vice President and Minister of Foreign Affairs Carl Greenidge

…Min. Greenidge urges a more ‘tranquil’ debate on oil sector

FOREIGN Affairs Minister Carl Greenidge has clarified that he never suggested that media houses should “go easy” on ExxonMobil, but urged a more informed and reasoned debate while putting the nation’s best interest at the front of any debate.

Recently, there has been much debate in the media about the US$18M ExxonMobil signing bonus and the government’s involvement, as well as criticisms against Greenidge for calling on citizens not to beat up on the oil firm. Greenidge told SafeTV News in an interview on Monday that there were reports floating around which suggested that he requested that the media “go easy” on the oil company.

In response to these remarks, Greenidge said that he did not ask the media to go easy on Exxon Mobil but instead drew their attention to the implications the matter could have on the country attracting investments.

“I have at no point asked the media to go softly on Exxon, I was drawing to the attention of the press that we are a destination seeking to attract investment, and, we have many competitors,” the minister stated. “Sometimes you have to understand how you are perceived. We need to attract other investors,” he said, adding: “Even today, another multinational investor is to join the team on the shelf and, that is a good thing, but I believe that they themselves would have had cause to pause when the debates were taking place over — what some people object to the use of the term –, ‘cuss out’ and so forth.”

Greenidge also stated that Guyana had, for over 51 years, sought to attract a petroleum investor with financial and other capabilities to maintain interest in Guyana and operate without fear of their vessels being ceased.

“We’ve tried in that time to attract a major investor. We had not managed to do so until Exxon came along. Exxon, having come along, also was prepared to put their money into a project, this is a US $4 billion project, it is very large…and Liza 1, which is where the oil companies are operating and drilling offshore in Guyana, is a project engaging three companies: Exxon Mobil, Hess and CNOOC,” the minister explained.

These three companies, he went on to say, should receive similar attention and, at the same time, he found it odd that persons would single out one company to “carry a long string of criticisms of their performance elsewhere”.

“My problem was not that they shouldn’t be criticised but that the criticism should be balanced. Exxon actually has not broken any laws in Guyana, it doesn’t owe the government any taxes and it has not yet produced a single barrel of oil. So while it is fine to draw to the public’s attention that, it seems to be a rather jaundiced focus,” he expressed.

Greenidge then went on to speak on the coverage of his remarks on the matter by a particular media house. “My comment about Exxon, and maybe I’m at fault here, was not a comment directed to all the media. My comment was directed to one paper, which (paper) sought my reaction to their series on Exxon when that paper first started the series, which is since July.

“I hadn’t at the time read it and I gave them a reaction. Without publishing my reaction, the newspaper then launched a very thin, veiled, personal attack, which I regard as abusive,” the Minister of Foreign Affairs stated.
He said, he observed that a number of persons were saying that the newspapers had a right to comment, which he agrees with, but it also does not mean that every action the newspaper takes is correct, nor did it give them the right to put words in his mouth.

Another matter Greenidge said was being propelled by the media was that he suggested that Exxon approached him, to seek his assistance in relation to interaction with the press.
Chartered Accountant, Chris Ram, was reported as saying that the posture by Greenidge suggests that he is “spokesperson” of the oil company. To this the minster said: “It’s completely false. And, that is the type of problem I’m dealing with. The issue is you can make a case without abusing someone because they have a different view, and you can make a case without fabricating stories.”

He explained that it was not part of his responsibilities as the Minister of Foreign Affairs to monitor the activities between the government and its private stakeholders, but to manage and protect the image of Guyana.

“My responsibility is not to monitor the daily arrangements between government and any of the private companies. The purpose of my intervention…is to help to deal with the image of Guyana. And, as Foreign Minister, Minister of International Trade, I have a responsibility for investment. “It is a position that is in my letter of appointment. That’s a responsibility; I didn’t [give] it to myself. These were the responsibilities I was given and I do make commentaries from time to time on other entities,” Greenidge said.

He then explained that the management of taxation was not his responsibility but that of the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Natural Resources, of which he could make known his concerns to them privately.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs then asked why media houses fail to question the government’s dealing with Exxon during the company’s first arrival in Guyana. “When Exxon Mobil and its partners came in here in 1999, I didn’t hear Kaieteur (News) and everybody else making these comments, they never said to the government, ‘Don’t give them a concession, and don’t give a block.”

In addition, he addressed comments that there were similar criticisms coming from his party while they served as the opposition, of investors like ‘Fip’ Motilall and Bai Shan Lin. Greenidge responded to these remarks in stating: “I reject that totally. I have certainly pronounced on ‘Fip’ Motilall not because I knew anything…or didn’t know anything about ‘Fip’ Motilall, but the terms under which he was granted a contract to organise and build a hydro, having had no experience in that regard…and, Bai Shan Lin, for breaking the law.”

Greenidge further suggested that individuals attacking ExxonMobil singularly, either call for a contract termination or get along with the business of Guyana. “If some of the comments being made are being embraced fully, like we did recommend with Motilall, you terminate the contract, if that is your view,” Greenidge stated, adding: “If you’re not going to terminate it, then you have to get on with your work, make sure you can get the taxes from them. Not to be only carrying that battle against them.”

Greenidge, said the ExxonMobil signing bonus being alluded to as a bribe or underhand dealing of some sort was ill-conceived. Referring to past times where he had been offered large sums of monies to do something illegal, the minister said, “If I didn’t do it in that time, when money would have been scarce to ministers and to individuals, why would I do that now?

“And who in their right mind would…suggest that you sign a contract that would enable you to put 50 million US dollars in your pocket illegally when [being offered elsewhere] there was no contract involved. They didn’t say ‘We want to offer you a bribe, sign this contract’, they simply made the offer…so some of us, I think may be letting our imaginations run away with us.” Greenidge admonished those debating the issue to look at the bigger picture. “I believe that we have to pay attention to what is going on around us.”

“Guyana has national interest and I would like to see all of us address that national interest without the emotional and emotive dimensions that frequently intrude, I think we can all benefit from a more tranquil environment of debate, ” he added.

(Sourced from Guyana Chronicle– December 19, 2017)

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