FIRST INTERACTIVE CIVIL ASSEMBLY VOTES RESOUNDING MAJORITY

A broad cross-section of Guyanese participated in the three days, Zoom-based virtual ‘Citizens Assembly’ organized by Policy Forum Guyana on the theme “Making Up Your Mind About Natural Resources & The Extractive Sector”. The event was prompted by the need for opportunities for ordinary Guyanese not only to learn more about the extractive sector but, more importantly, to express their opinions about it.

The event consisted of six two-hour sessions divided over three days from September 1st – 3rd 2021.

The event saw 202 persons registered along with Facebook users watching the live stream. Gender differences among our participants had 57% identifying as female while 43% were male. Guidance on the Zoom-based techniques was provided by young Guyanese technicians. The event was chaired by Mr. Alim Hosein, Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Education and Humanities of the University of Guyana, supported by a team of young volunteers led by Benita Davis, the Event Coordinator.

Despite a few technical difficulties based on feedback received, most persons were pleased with the level of detail in the presentations and enjoyed being able to freely state their views, however controversial. 

Unlike the average conference, this Zoom experience focused on participants voting on propositions relating to ownership of natural resources, the viability of extraction given the climate crisis, how benefits are to be shared, features of the Natural Resources Fund Act, and the importance of transparency in the extractive sector. These topics were guided respectively by Ms. Kerry-Anne Cort-Kansinally, Dr. Janette Bulkan, Mr. Rahul Basu of the Goa Foundation from India, Dr Troy Thomas, and Ms. Vanda Radzik.

The overwhelming vote in favour of the need for intergenerational fairness in the use of natural resources provoked a line of discussion rarely voiced in the oil and gas debates in Guyana. Rather than focus on the oil contracts, or on oil discovery as ‘windfall’ profits to be spent like lottery funds, participants grappled with the principles that these inherited assets should be enjoyed by future generations as much as by the current generation. 

The significance of the climate crisis was also reflected in the voting, with a more equal division between those who believed Guyanese had a right to benefit from oil and gas despite the crisis and those who were opposed to this position.   

Discussion and voting on the Natural Resources Fund Act produced a resounding 93% vote in favour of amending the sections of the Act addressing the Public Accountability and Oversight Committee (POAC). The participants overwhelmingly agreed that the articles in the Act relating to the Selection of the Committee, the categories of civil society that should be eligible for selection, and identifying functions but assigning no powers to the POAC must all be amended.   The voting in the final round on transparency issues produced almost unanimous agreement demanding more explicit publication of data related to the extractive activity.

It was agreed that following the Assembly, as a priority, action would be taken to finalize the amendments and broaden the civic consensus around them with the intention of communicating the results to the Parliamentary Committee on Natural Resources as a basis for engaging the political parties.

Strong support for greater levels of transparency was demonstrated with respect to the licenses issued to extractive companies, particularly making clear who the beneficiaries are and what levels of extraction are contained in mining contracts.

details of the votes on the various propositions are contained in an accompanying attachment.

This event was made possible by the support of the United States Agency for International Development/ Guyana Extractive Sector Transparency (USAID/GYEST) project and Transparency Institute Guyana Inc. (TIGI).

POLICY FORUM GUYANA

September 7, 2021

Contact Info:    policyforumgy@gmail.com    

Tels: 227-4908, 654-5323, 637-2607

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