Whither an oil find in the land of wood and water?Thursday, May 13, 2021
Marc A Ricketts
The recent revelation that United Oil and Gas Plc (UOG) has quadrupled its yearly budget for the continuing hunt for oil in Jamaica's waters could prove to be a significant moment in the history of Jamaica's search for oil.
The first time I visited this particular issue was in my teenage years. Even then, my adolescent mind wondered why nations like Trinidad and Tobago had the good fortune to discover oil, but not Jamaica. It has always been a relative no-brainer for me that at some point we would. My simplistic thought, at the time, just couldn't escape the likelihood that the geology of the Caribbean was probably not so different in that oil-rich area as in Jamaican waters.
Fast-forward a couple of decades and we have seen Guyana “striking oil” as well. It's now become well documented that a relatively large proportion of the proceeds from those oil resources will not find its way into the Guyanese coffers. More on that later.
By quadrupling their research and development budget UOG has, in not so many words, signalled its increasing confidence that it will find oil in commercially viable quantities in Jamaican waters, sooner than any of us may have thought. Companies with this kind of experience are unlikely to be throwing good money after bad.
So let's, for a second, take a walk into the future and assume that large oil resources are found in Jamaican territorial waters. A literal godsend, right? Not so fast. Let's look at the lessons of history. What happened in Guyana? A quote from a February 2020 article from the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre could put this into perspective:
“...Exxon employed aggressive negotiating tactics. At the same time, Guyana's Natural Resources Minister Raphael Trotman — who helped negotiate the deal and ultimately signed it — may have been operating under a possible conflict of interest. The evidence suggests that Trotman also failed to represent his country effectively during negotiations, declining to listen to expert advice and undervaluing Guyana's apparently strong bargaining position.”
Bruce Golding, a former prime minister of Jamaica, who was present during the elections, stated he had “never seen a more transparent attempt to alter the result of an election”.
Trotman was the minister of national resources for the then ruling Partnership for National Unity+ Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) led by President David Granger. The use of the term “conflict of interest” is likely a euphemism, and I would not be surprised if kickbacks, bribes, or some form of chicanery were at play, and those oil rights were literally sold from under the Guyanese people.
This all came to a head when after a vote of no confidence, swung by one Member of Parliament voting against party lines, a snap election was called. The voting process was reportedly free and fair, but the ballot counting was fraught with irregularities, and attempts were made to hijack the electoral process. Long and short, after numerous legal challenges, the AFC was unseated, much to the chagrin of US interests. It is widely believed that the US was heavily involved in trying to influence the elections to ensure that their favoured incumbent party remained in power. In a moment in history that I am particularly proud, the people spoke, and the rightful winners of the election were duly elected, and that oil deal will likely eventually be renegotiated.
What does this mean for us here in Jamaica? With an oil find comes a sudden interest in a country by imperialist nations and their interests. We will then have to negotiate a similar deal. With our proven history of corruption across both sides of the political fence, here is my question: How confident are you that any such deal would be negotiated in such a way that these oil resources would give maximum benefit to the Jamaican people? I've observed imperialist interference in Jamaica from as far back as the 1970s in different forms, and I, for one, am not so confident.
Marc A Ricketts is a family physician. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or email@example.com.
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