The Freundel Stuart Administration has gone too far in its effort to attract international companies to explore for oil offshore Barbados.
That’s the view of the Opposition Barbados Labour Party, with St. Michael North East MP, Mia Mottley, as she urged Government to introduce fines of up to $20 million a year to dissuade contracted companies from holding onto control of blocks of the island’s territorial sea for up to 25 years without searching for oil.
She was also concerned that Barbados would be engaging in direct negotiations with oil companies and that the minister of energy would have the power to give these entities extensions if they wanted to delay drilling.
Mottley was speaking in the Lower House as members debated an amendment to the Offfshore Petroleum Act, which was approved by the House of Assembly in 2007, but never proclaimed.
“We cannot say ‘take this, this is the whole of Barbados’ that we are giving you in these two blocks, you could take how long, do whatever you want, and we can’t do anything about it’. That cannot be what we have come in here to do today, it cannot be,” she said.
“And if the government is not willing to retain that power, then I say … put a high penalty, nothing less than US$10 million a year for every year that they ask for a deferral.”
Mottley said it was “a good thing to get the feedback from investors”, the BLP’s view was that “at the end of the day our national position has to be one that is defined just as that, a national position”.
“My understanding is that there have been a number of companies and countries that have said to the Government ‘Look, we are prepared to do this, but since it is so new we want to directly negotiate with you’,” she said.
“And that may be true, but that’s not part of our style and for a Prime Minister that prides himself on transparency I would think that he would want to maintain these heights rather than seek to go the route of other countries that were looking for a quick fix and that quick fix would be to by pass the public procurement process.”
“I understand the need for flexibility, but if you want flexibility you have to do it at the cost of maintaining the levels of transparency because of the richness, in every sense of the word, of this particular sector and the extent to which it can have a disproportionate impact on values, prosperity and capacity of the country,” she added.
Regarding the issue of direct negotiations, Mottley added: “We feel that if you want to go for direct negotiations you have to anchor it in transparency and fairness and reasonableness.” She also said it was wrong for the Minister of Energy to have the power to determine whether an oil company could get an extension on the date it should start its oil production.
“I am saying fundamentally that it runs counter to everything that we ought to be doing if we are having … a national approach to the development of this sector, and … if we accept that we stand in trust on behalf of the people of this sector,” Mottley stated.
“I would prefer that if you want to have that power to defer it should be approved not by a minister but by some public authority that makes its decision and reasons public … and then secondly that there be a penalty consequential upon any deferral of the obligation to produce.” (SC)