OIL AND GAS EXPLORATION: STANDING AT AN ECONMIC CROSSROAD

Posted by at 8 May, at 14 : 02 PM Print

Grenada is at economic crossroad; we can decide to stand still, or we can decide to venture on a road where we have never been before. But, as the saying goes, “nothing ventured, nothing gained.’’

 News and public discourse in recent weeks have been dominated by the maritime treaty signed between Grenada and our oil-rich CARICOM neighbour, the Republic of Trinidad & Tobago. It’s officially titled, “Treaty on the Delimitation of Marine and Submarine Areas.’’

 The treaty was negotiated in less than two years by teams of highly trained experts from Grenada and T&T that comprised the Joint Boundary Commission.

 The negotiations, delimiting where the boundaries of the two countries begin and end, were done purely on the basis of international law, specifically under Article 74 of the United Nations Law of the Sea Convention. Article 74 of the Convention stipulates the terms for delimiting exclusive economic zones between states with opposite or adjacent coasts, such as Grenada and T&T.

 Each time a round of negotiations was held – whether in St. George’s or Port of Spain – Foreign Affairs Minister Peter David would speak to the press about whether any progress had been made. It was, therefore, rather stunning when the opposition New National Party and its leader, Dr. Keith Mitchell, alleged that the National Democratic Congress government negotiated the treaty in secret.

 It clearly is part of a deliberate spurious campaign by the NNP and Dr. Mitchell, who seem bent on trying to derail the execution of the treaty; prepared to sacrifice it on the altar of political expediency.

 Dr. Mitchell has had a long run as politician in Grenada; more than a quarter century. And whether he likes it or not, he’s in the twilight of his political career; time, age and history are against him. He is politically sharp. As such, Dr. Mitchell knows what the next general election means to him. A second consecutive defeat for the NNP – even if Dr. Mitchell retains his St. George North-West seat (and he is most likely to do so) – will surely bury and erase his abiding ambition to once again hold the title of Prime Minister of Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique.

Nothing will hurt the chances of the NNP ever forming the next government, and Dr. Mitchell returning as Prime Minister, more than exploration in Grenadian waters and the discovery of oil and gas deposits. The jobs and wealth that will flow from such a discovery will propel Grenada upwards from its current status as a relatively stagnant Third World state.

 A Grenada populace, grateful to the NDC for its vision and skills in negotiating the maritime deal with Trinidad & Tobago, is almost certain to reward the National Democratic Congress by giving the party a second term in office. Under the circumstances, it would be a deserving reward to Prime Minister Tillman Thomas and his talented team that includes Foreign Minister David; Finance Minister Nazim Burke; Tourism Minister Glynis Roberts; Works Minister Joseph Gilbert; Education Minister Franka Alexis-Bernardine; Environment Minister Michael Church; Agriculture Minister Denis Lett; and Junior Information and Culture Minister Arley Gill.

 It is politically understandable, but unfortunate from a national development viewpoint, that Dr. Mitchell is endeavouring to use this historic maritime treaty as a political wedge issue; trying to play on the fear of some segments of the population, goading them to protest against something from which they and generations to come will benefit. He won’t tell our fishermen and women, for example, that under the treaty Grenada has officially secured – for the first time ever – a share of what is known as the “Continental Shelf.’’ The treaty calls for joint Trinidad/Grenada operations on the shelf.

 Businessman and private sector representative in the Senate, Chris DeAllie, was briefed on the treaty and attended its signing in Port of Spain between Trinidad’s Prime Minister Patrick Manning and Tillman Thomas, Prime Minister of Grenada. Senator DeAllie is optimistic about the potential for economic development, including the activity that can be generated for the fishing industry of Grenada. “The opportunity now exists for us to get bigger boats or better equipped trawlers and fish further out to sea,’’ he said.

 The head of the Grenada delegation to the Joint Boundary Commission was Dr. Carlyle Mitchell, a former Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance, and now an Adjunct Professor at the University of Ottawa. He underlined the importance of the Treaty on the Delimitation of Marine and Submarine Areas. Dr. Mitchell points out that, “Once you get your space, you know what you have. You have sovereign and jurisdiction rights over that space, then you could do with it what you want.’’

 With the unprecedented hope, optimism and economic possibilities confronting Grenada with the signing of the treaty, Dr. Keith Mitchell and the NNP have been running around, whining like cry babies, begging Grenadians to wear black in protest of the treaty, and promising “active and aggressive opposition.’’

 The NNP has refused to attend briefings on the treaty, where they would have been provided with details of the agreement, and would have been able to ask questions and seek clarification.

 Yet, without knowledge and without being briefed, the NNP and its leader feel compelled to speak loudly, peddling in misinformation and downright lies. One of their biggest fibs was the assertion that the NNP had rejected signing a treaty with T&T, similar to the one recently negotiated by the Joint Boundary Commission. That claim by the NNP was debunked; put to rest first, not by any Grenadian. It was Prime Minister Manning who openly stated that there has been no maritime negotiation or agreement involving his country and Grenada for some 16 years. In fact, no Grenada government – until the current NDC administration – has had the offer of a maritime agreement that they could have either accepted or rejected.

 What this present government has to do is press ahead with Grenada’s development, whether it’s in oil and gas exploration, fisheries, or physical and infrastructural improvement and modernisation. Allow the NNP to wallow in its divisiveness and tribalism, and in political pettiness.

 Prime Minister Thomas and his cabinet must show boldness where it is warranted and lead from in front at all times. Entertain constructive criticism and suggestions but do not allow them to paralyse the government from taking action that is the best interest of the people of Tri-island Nation. For example, sooner a later a definite decision should be taken on the adoption of a development plan for the Town of St. George. The government must make a choice from among the options it surely must have, including Zublin’s Renaissance Project.

 In the case of oil and gas exploration, a major consideration will be exploring, while not damaging our environment. The good thing is that Grenada will be starting with lessons learnt from early oil-exploring countries. We can avoid their mistakes. Secondly, technology and techniques for exploration are much more advanced today than they were many years ago.

 A third critical component is establishing bodies of professionally trained and skilled individuals to manage our marine and energy resources, and the expected flow of revenue. Nigel John, former president of the Chamber of Industry and Commerce, aptly summarises the approach that should be taken in this respect. He suggests: “There must be good strategy as to how do we best use the resources in order to plan in a most sustainable way for the future.’’

 Mr. John is recommending the setting up of a commission representing a broad cross-section of society. The commission’s job, he says, would be to determine the most strategic way forward to “exploit whatever resources that may be available to us.’’

 We completely agree with Mr. John. The maritime treaty represents our greatest chance for economic takeoff. We, as a nation, should embrace the opportunity and do our part to make the treaty work in the best interest of all the people of Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique.

Commentary on page 4 of the May issue of the monthly Grenada Barnacle newspaper

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