On June 16, 2011, the government of Bangladesh signed a production-sharing contract (PSC) with the US oil & gas company ConocoPhillips for the oil and gas exploration from two deep-sea blocks – DS-08-10 and DS-08-11 covering an area of 5,158 sq. kilometres. The company won the blocks at an off-shore block bidding floated by Petrobangla in 2008. In August 2009, the cabinet committee approved signing of a PSC on condition that oil and gas exploration will be restricted to undisputed areas. Government termed it as a milestone for the energy security of the nation while a few leftist organizations and persons appraise it otherwise. In particular, National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Ports has vehemently opposed the contract and termed it is as a violation of national interest and a threat to national security. They voiced that the country has been handed over to United States (one cannot ascertain how!), and the sovereignty is no longer exist (how cheap our sovereignty is!). Several other leftist political and social organisations also strongly protested the contract.
Everybody is aware of the crises we are in, especially on the energy front—the lifeline of the economy. It is hard to believe that for the last one decade or so, given the fastest growing nature of an economy like us, Bangladesh did not go for a single exploration despite having the potentials.
I am not going into the details or nitty-gritty of the contract as it is quite technical and the contract has not yet been made public. But as we understand from the statements from the concerned government ministry and high officials and independent (not Marxist) energy experts that the contract is okay and it satisfies the international standard. However, there is no let up in leftists’ speculations, and sometimes they are deploying many logics which do not exist in the contract. I have experienced a recent debate between Anu Muhammad, the leader of National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Ports and the Energy Secretary of the Government of Bangladesh organized by the ATN News, the private satellite TV channel. I could not resist myself to share with the reader which I believe would help dispel many speculations and misconceptions. On the royalty issue which Anu Muhammad and his team argues that Bangladesh will get only 20% which was dismissed by the Energy Secretary who rather told that BD will get 45% share in the cost-recovery phase and the share will naturally increase once cost has been recovered. Then the share will go up-to 80%, he gave reference to Bibiana Gas field that Bangladesh is now receiving nearly 75% of the explored gas as its own share and the rest it is buying. However, It will get 20% only in the case where Bangladesh will decline to buy the explored gas and Conoco will have to export it for its cost-recovery etc and only in the form of LNG for which it has to invest almost USD 3 billions for an LNG plant at on-shore. The secretary has stressed that nothing such will happen in near future as Bangladesh itself needs huge energy for the coming years and there is no situation will arise in the foreseeable future that Bangladesh may decline to buy natural gas from Conoco. The Secretary said that the provision of LNG gas export is the furthest possibility and very very hypothetical. Besides, on export clause in the contract, the secretary responded to Anu Muhammad’s claim that every PSC signed by Bangladesh government up until today since 1971 had the same provision that the company can only export the gas if all other alternatives are exhausted. It is also evident that all PSCs signed around the world have the similar clause as it comes as a standard practice. If, in any case, Petrobangla declines to buy the gas, the company will have to explore domestic market—which is domestic private sector to sell their share. But above all, it is the government from which the company has to receive clearance and if the government doesn’t allow them, they can’t export it. Another issue where Anu Muhammad argued that Bangladesh govt. has to build the pipeline to bring the gas to on-shore which too the Secretary denied and said that the contractor will have to build this pipeline by its own, however, the cost will be adjusted. Anu Muhammad was then arguing that the government has intentionally paralysed the Bapex to award contract to foreign companies. Nevertheless, the Secretary shared his experience that the exploration assignments Bapex is being engaged now is unprecedented and explained how the current government has given the highest priority to equip Bapex more than any other regime in our history. Another point of discord was the technical capacity of off-shore exploration of Bangladesh, the process and time needed for capacity building, the urgency of energy and whether we can wait for our capacity building and then to go off-shore. The Secretary gave rational that we are now in an urgent situation and there is no time to spare now but to go for exploration. The economy, industrialization, and electrification everything is in a dire condition now and if we do not go for immediate exploration, the situation will only turn worse. The Secretary however agreed that Govt. has to build capacity of Bapex and they are working on that.
The whole debate could be an eye-opener, because the Secretary is the highest official responsible to clarify the government’s position and the programme was on air. But unfortunately while Anu Muhammad has been defeated in almost every arguments and points he raised, his dogmatism about the contract remains vivid. This shows the bankruptcy of our leftist politicians.
It was no wonder that soon after signing the contract they raised their trade-mark allegation that the country has been sold, sovereignty has gone, imperialists have taken our everything etcetera etcetera. The people are so used to these words and phrases that that added nothing to their political humors! Rather after being mired into the energy crisis for over the decades, most people welcomed the initiative. They believe that they need solution on the ground, not a solution which does not exist anywhere.
I have long been used to a concept that Marxism has a lot more to do with economics and Marxist politics is basically based on and emanates from political economic theories. But to our utter surprise the way our Marxists behave does not even relate to basic economic theories. In our oil and gas exploration sector, their prime point of argument of this Marxist fellow is that this is our resource; this is the resources of the people, why should we give share of our resource to foreign companies? Rather, as they put, we have to build our own capacity to extract our minerals by ourselves, especially in these off-shore blocs. Well, sounds great. But does this give you any hint of reality? I am wondering how these Marxists fellow treat the ‘paper currency’ and whether they consider it as a resource too. I know many of you will do, of course you do. Now tell me, Bangladesh is paying billions of dollars to foreign companies for importing goods and services, machineries etc; we have to import almost USD 17 billions every year from other countries, should we do that? From these Marxists’ point of view, we should not remit our billions of dollars (these currencies are also tangible property) to foreign countries, because these dollars is our resources, they are the resources of people! Instead, they should say that we have to build our own aero-plane, capital machineries, software.. everything, we have to produce oils, onions every other commodities we import. Shouldn’t we? Come on, we have to pay our resources for this and the same logic applies here. If we follow their arguments, you have to build your capacity in every sector (because otherwise your national resources will be remitted in some form). If you want to drill for gas, you have to build your capacity of Bapex, then you have to build your own nationalised aero-plane industry first before you should fly, you should produce all of your commodities before being habituated to consume them! Because, all these cost money, the resources of yours, why should you give it to Chinese, Indians, Gernmans, United States? At the same time if United States deploys the same logic, they will stop buying your RMGs because it is costing their 5-6 billion dollars, their public money! Does this sound great?
What I have to treat the expertise of the ConocoPhillips is that it is its product to sell and we have our product which is minerals. Now we are just trading off these products through offering a share of our minerals to exploit the remaining. We are buying their expertise in exchange of our tangible property—either gas or oil. We are just hiring the expertise of the company which we don’t have and we cannot exercise a lot of variation to international standard contracts, doing so would unable us to find a contractor. If you do not want to trade, they won’t buy it! It is simple trade-economics. If we have the same expertise of drilling, we can bid for the exploration in the Gulf of Mexico, United States as the British Petroleum is doing! And I can tell you that our PSC with Conoco is better than the one US government has with the BP. But no one there claimed that the government of the United States sold their sovereignty to British government! It is economics of capitalism (not Marixism). The country will calculate its own cost-benefits, every other country, except nationalist economies—a rare one or two, would do so. So, what is the Anu Muhammad’s point here?
Do these leftist fellows have bankruptcy of ideas?
What Anu Muhammad and his associates are saying now is its own political ideology and belief that major institutions of a state should be nationalised. I don’t see any problems for pursuing such political ideology. But I see the problem when you are pleading to implement your own political ideology to someone who doesn’t believe in yours and has its own one. We all know that Awami League, the ruling party, is not a communist party and believe in market-based economy (capitalism). Therefore, they will formulate policies, pursue agendas which go in line with their own political reality. They are not supposed to implement Marxists’ agenda. The politics is wide open and this Marxist Anu Muhammad and his team should pursue a political entity, as they are doing so, and seek popular votes to form a government to implement their ideologies. Anyone resisted them of doing so? No. But the fact is people do not trust them ever. They have not voted to power ever. Have they learnt any lesson why so?
I see the crisis of today’s left politics is cynicism rather. They mistrust everyone, everything said or done. They found every people not chorusing their voices as an agent of imperialist power. They treat every action does not satisfy their ideology as an agenda of imperialist forces. You can hardly hear them appreciating a people, or a thing. You will frequently hear that Dr Yunus is an agent, Dr Kamal Hossain is an agent, Sheikh Hasina Wajed, Begum Khaleda Zia, HM Ershad… every other political figure is an agent of foreign masters to these leftists. This vicious cycle of negativism made their progress almost impossible. This is quite natural that when you mistrust every other people other than you, than everyone will treat you in the same manner. Left politics has to come out of this frustrations and it is imperative for their survival.