Former Minister of Finance, Nazim Burke has been appointed to lead a newly formed committee set up by the 14-month old Congress government to look into the status of Grenada’s “missing oil and gas reserves”.
This was one of the critical announcements made Tuesday by Governor General Dame Cecile La Grenade as she delivered the Throne Speech which is written by the government to mark the Ceremonial State Opening of the Second Session of the Eleventh Parliament of Grenada.
In her address, Dame Cecile dropped hints that the files detailing the agreement signed between the former Keith Mitchell-led New National Party (NNP) administration and the Russian oil company known as Global Petroleum Group (GPG) to exploit the island’s oil and gas reserves have literally vanished.
“As of today, we are yet to solve the mystery of Grenada’s offshore oil and gas reserves. Very little records can be found anywhere within the Government, and our technocrats within the Ministries and Departments have very little information on this matter,” she told the Joint Sitting of members of the Upper and Lower Houses of Parliament.
“In essence, upon assuming office, my Government was not provided with any transition report or any files on Grenada’s legal or contractual obligations or Grenada’s progress in relation to its oil and gas reserves. This situation is untenable and completely unacceptable and my Government is committed to doing all within its power to unearth the mystery of Grenada’s oil and gas status,” she said.
Burke who had served as a senior minister in the 2008-13 Congress government of then Prime Minister Tillman Thomas was a key player in discussions held between St George’s and GPG on the way forward with its exploration for Oil and Gas deposits in Grenadian waters.
He was also spearheading efforts by the Congress government to seek the co-operation of a member of the Russian outfit to press criminal charges against a member of the former NNP regime in connection with the payment of EC$1.8 million that could not be accounted for.
Despite non-cooperation of the Russian, the late Attorney General of Trinidad & Tobago Karl Hudson-Phillip after perusing the files that were prepared by the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) gave the go-ahead for charges to be laid on the NNP official.
The FIU, then headed by Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) Senneth Joseph, was making preparations for the detention of the suspect at the St Paul’s Police Station but the plan was aborted with no reasons being given.
Speculation is rife that an influential state official was reluctant to press charges against the former NNP government minister.
Dame Cecile disclosed that apart from Burke, the other members of the new oil and gas team will include newly appointed Chairman of Grenlec Board of Directors, Rodney George, Government Advisor Richard Duncan, as well as the German-based Geologist Dr. Raymond Nurse, and the Solicitor General whose mandate is “to investigate and to do what it takes to demystify our oil and gas situation.”
THE NEW TODAY understands that the committee will also include representatives from the renewable energy sector as well as from Social and Civil Society.
The island’s female Head of State went on to say: “The mandate of the technical working group is to fully assess Grenada’s hydrocarbon potential and, if found to be commercially viable, devise a strategy and action plan to explore, develop and monetise it for the benefit of the citizens and the patrimony of the nation.”
Prime Minister Dickon Mitchell who also commented on the issue said he believes that the team can get to the bottom of the issue of the missing oil and gas reserves.
He pointed out that Congress was forced into going in this direction due to the fact that “we have not had any information whatsoever from anybody pertaining to Grenada’s oil and gas.”
“There has been no file left, no transition submitted and so we have been left on our own essentially to gather bits and pieces of information from every source,” he said.
“We cannot have a situation where important national assets or points of interest simply disappear when a government change either disappears or is not made readily available and as an incoming government we should not have to be fighting to find out where the file is,” he added.
PM Dickon Mitchell expressed utter disappointment that something which is nationalistic in terms of its impact on the country and region could have been operated and run by what he termed “a secret society.”
According to the 45-year old Grenadian leader, the Nazim Burke-led Committee will be “given the full authority to hire consultants and lawyers so that the matter can be moved forward as quickly as possible.”
He said the committee was scheduled to hold its first meeting Wednesday this week with a representative of GPG “as an initial start.”
“We are committed to ensuring that we fully explore this issue and that we can come back and report to the public as to where we are,” he said.
Three days before the 2018 general election, the then Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell told a rally held by the NNP on the Pearl’s airstrip in St Andrew that Grenada was on the verge of being “a massive supplier of oil and Gas”.
The current Opposition Leader told cheering NNP supporters that GPG had found one well that was “exciting” and had come onto “several wells which were even more exciting than the one that was found.”
About two years later, Dr. Keith Mitchell told reporters at a press conference that due to falling oil prices on the world market it was no longer commercially viable for an investor to commit funds in exploration at this point in time.
GPG is known to have signed an agreement with the National Gas Company of Trinidad & Tobago to get involved in Grenada’s gas deposits around its boundary with Port-of-Spain.
Dr. Keith Mitchell on Tuesday responded to the government’s claims that it is yet to find any documentation about the progress made, even though the exploration quest, has been ongoing for almost two (2) decades, accusing the Congress administration of lying about the oil and gas issue.
“This government is being characterised by telling lies… about oil and gas, that they have no documentation…they have enough documentation…don’t forget there were other NDC governments that came into office before this one and would have followed up on a number of activities. So, it’s very strange and I am saying it’s a blatant lie,” he told reporters in an interview shortly after exiting the Chambers of Parliament.
However, Prime Minister Dickon Mitchell maintains his government’s position on the issue, noting that no documents supporting the existence of oil and gas deposits were transferred to the new NDC Government.
“When I tell you, we have written transition reports from every ministry (and) oil and gas was not mentioned in a single report,” PM Mitchell told reporters.
He challenged the Opposition to guide the Congress administration on where the files can be accessed.
“Minister Bowen was Minister for Energy for a long time, if they know where the files are then they can certainly in the public’s interest, direct the technocrats at the various ministries where the files can be obtained so that they can provide the files to us…” PM Mitchell remarked.
The former Congress Finance Minister has been appointed to chair the investigative committee to uncover the truth surrounding the status of the country’s oil and gas resources and when approached on this development, Nazim Burke, who is a practicing attorney indicated that it was too early to comment on it.