4 de mayo de 1998

The Petroleum Ombusdam Revisited

Almost one year ago, I published an articled titled “The Petroleum Ombudsman”. In this article I raised the need to institutionalize the figure of a qualified entity that could satisfy the requirements of the Venezuelan citizens of objective and independent information and analysis related to the country’s oil industry.

At that time, my observations were initially driven by a desire to know what effects on the industry the vast restructuring of PDVSA’s organization would have. In my opinion, there was a risk of centralization of the company.

Today, upon reviewing the myriad of questions PDVSA’s actions have raised in the Venezuelan society over the past year, I am even more convinced that the matter of the ombudsman for the petroluem sector must pass from being a mere suggestion to being an outright and urgent requirement. Let us see some examples:

The Oil Opening was justified by a lack of availability of resources to continue PDVSA’s investment plans. All of the funds raised by the opening, however, went directly into the Nation’s fiscal coffers. Who can explain that?

Without the slightest remorse, the National Executive requested that PDVSA withhold or delay payment of its obligations to local suppliers in an effort to further fight inflationary pressures, thereby becoming just another poor payer. Could this have been the beginning of an interesting swap aimed at sending Mr. Guisti to the Central Bank in return for Dr. Casas?

We are continually bombarded by adds in the press, selling courses and seminars to be dictated by an educational affiliate denominated PDVSA Cied. One single session, from 8 AM to 5 PM costs Bs. 300,000, an evident divorce from the economic realities of the country. When was PDVSA authorized by the country to expand its scope of activities in this manner?

Everyone has been made aware of the dangers of lead in gasoline. The solution for this seems to be of lesser importance than the revamping of an immense amount of service stations which, in addition to dispensing gasoline, are also to sell snacks. Who establishes investment priorities?

If any market is to be considered a captive client for PDVSA, it should be the Venezuelan one. I find it difficult to visualize a supertanker from the gulf trying to pass gasoline through our port authorities with the aim of selling me the concept “Put a camel in your tank”. If this is so, and if PDVSA truly is short of resources, on what basis can they announce a plan to invest US$ 800 million over the next nine years in order to improve their service station network. Why aren’t these resources invested in countries who’s markets we should be conquering?

And while we are talking of PDV, how much did the changes in image and the marketing of a new logo and trademark cost us?

And speaking of logos and trademarks, I haven’t seen any of the large oil companies now coming into Venezuela to participate in the local markets make these changes in order to compete in our environment. In a world of global markets, global coherence would seem to be important. We are all aware of the PDVSA’s important participation in the US markets through its holdings in the CITGO network. Why, then, don’t we support this trademark and market it in Venezuela as well?

By raising these questions, I don’t wish to give the impression that I argue in favor of the Petroleum Ombudsman only to supervise PDVSA. It is also important to note that this office could also launch a vigorous defense of the industry’s interests at times when fiscal pressures are brought to bear by the National Executive. These pressures could ultimately lead to further indebtedness and/or endanger our goose of the golden eggs in many other ways.

If anyone still harbors doubts as to the need for the office of this ombudsman, it should be enough to reflect on the confusion and ado created by the question as to whether PDVSA has or has not legally complied with is fiscal obligations.

PDVSA is a State owned company, headed by Directors and Management designated by the State. We should therefore be able to expect a certain confidence an adherence by the same with the norms handed down by the State. If this were not so, it would seem to indicate a much more serious problem, one that cannot be solved merely by establishing a special SENIAT office within PDVSA.

In the Daily Journal May 4, 1998