By Michael De Gale
January 29, 2008
The caption in the business section of the Trinidad Guardian 24/01/08 read, “Petro-Canada excited over T&T gas find”. The article referred to the recent discovery of between 0.6 – 1.3 trillion cubic feet of recoverable natural gas. I’m not a geologist, but that strikes me as a significant amount of natural gas regardless of how it is measured. Petro-Canada is reported to have said that the local gas discovery is among the “more significant” of its international exploration successes. What’s more, this find is the first of a four well program and according to company officials, “…the discovery validates our exploration model and further success on the block could lead to a material development”. I am not sure what the term “material development” means but I am willing to wager a bet that the mother load is yet to be discovered.
Nonetheless, that is beside the point. What really disturbed me about the article was the so called “partnership agreement” in which the Petroleum Company of T&T, Petrotrin, owns 10% and Petro-Canada owns the remaining 90% of the entire operation. Hell! I too would be excited if I owned 90% of any resource that is as lucrative as oil and gas – especially if it is the birthright of other people. If this is the full extent of the agreement, one does not have to be an economist to figure out that something is drastically wrong or somebody buckled under the pressure of high stakes negotiations. This does not strike me as a partnership but more like the 30 pieces of silver it took to give it all away. Regardless of who brought what to the table, there is no “Win – Win” situation here; there are only big winners and pathetic losers. Needless to say, the losers are none other than the people of T&T.
For the sake of argument, let’s say this was a legitimate agreement free of any questionable conduct or reasons to raise red flags. In such a scenario, the parties that were involved in negotiating this agreement should be barred from any future negotiations and immediate steps should be taken to amend that contract. For too long MNCs have sucked the natural resources of under developed countries leaving them more destitute and wretched than they found them. It is time for that predatory and parasitic behaviour to stop. The Nigerian playwright and activist, Ken Saro-Wiwa, gave his life in 1995 so that the Ogoni people in their oil rich region could have greater control of their natural resources. Our leaders should be willing to sacrifice no less.
It is never easy negotiating with multinational corporations particularly when you feel compromised. However, that is no reason to cower and give away your resources to the lowest bidder. In New Foundland for example, one of the poorest provinces in Canada, the Danny Williams administration in 2005 put ExxonMobile and other oil consortiums on notice that they would aggressively negotiate for enhanced local benefits from any agreement to develop their oil and gas resources. Premier Williams stated clearly that there will be “no more giveaways”. He was unequivocal about the approach he would take to resource development: “My team has received a mandate to seize control of our own destiny,” he said, “the giveaways end right here and right now.” As expected, business and various conservative elements raised a hue and cry but the premier stood his ground. Despite threatening to take their exploration activities elsewhere and vociferous public rhetoric, straw polls showed 77% in favour of “leaving it in the ground”. Two years later, the consortium returned to the bargaining table and struck a new agreement with the province. Once the most destitute of Canadian provinces, New Foundland and Labrador with its oil and gas resources is now poised to be another jewel in the Canadian crown.
My question is, how long will we continue to allow foreigners and the local elite to reap the benefits of our resources while our people languish in a country full of inflation, corruption, injustice, murder, armed robbery, maladministration, drug-trafficking, hunger, dishonesty and plain stupidity, to quote Saro-Wiwa himself? The people of T&T are not asking for the moon just a bigger slice of what is rightfully theirs. It is curious that the OWTU and the once powerful Labour Congress remain conspicuously silent on this atrocity.