A BAD oil deal would be worse than no deal retiring Chief Executive Keith Padgett warned the Falklands Government at the Legislative Assembly on Thursday.
He said if a mutually beneficial situation could not be achieved, “the oil should be left in the ground, or under the sea until conditions are such that a full and proper return for the Islands can be realised.”
“We should not let the concerted actions of a few individuals override the national interest,” he said.
Mr Padgett emphasised though: “For the record, I am as keen as anyone to see an oil industry develop here. It would be a huge boost to the economy and would allow investment in many much-needed facilities and initiatives. However, I have been intrinsically involved in FIG’s finances for over 15 years and I am confident that we don’t need oil to have a successful future.
“Of course it could be tremendously beneficial but the bottom line is that the Islands can and will continue to prosper and grow, with or without oil.
“My primary goal has always been that, when the final negotiations with oil companies are complete, the proceeds from the industry must be to the benefit and the long-term future of the Islands, not just company shareholders.”
He also warned of corruption as a potential negative by-product of oil wealth.
“I don’t mean wedges of notes carried around in brown envelopes; I wouldn’t suggest for a moment that will happen,” he said, but added that experience from other places suggested that wealth can encourage undesirable elements that may not have the same high standards of business or social ethics the Falklands currently aspire to.
“As a society we need to ensure that our laws and business practices maintain appropriate probity and good governance,” said Mr Padgett.
The Chief Executive has devoted much time to the hydrocarbon industry along with other members of the Corporate Management Team in an effort to find a responsible and equitable way of encouraging development, to the Islands benefit.
It had not been an easy task, he said, and external specialist resources had been called in to assist from time to time.
“After all, we are not oil specialists but the representatives from oil companies are. Furthermore, some of them initially thought - and perhaps still think - that we are simple yokels that can be quickly dealt with and quietly ignored. I can assure you that the next time those individuals were in my office those views were quickly dispelled,” said Mr Padgett.
“However, I would highlight that, with the imminent departure of a number of senior members of staff, a large part of the Government’s current development team will be replaced and a huge responsibility will be left with those that remain and replace us going forward. Of course none of us are irreplaceable, but I would urge those involved in ongoing discussions to maintain the policy principles we have consistently promoted. Otherwise the dismissive predictions of those oil executives may yet come to pass.”
Mr Padgett who started his career as an office junior, in the basement of Barnsley Town Hall more than 40 years ago and has been in the public service and politics for more than two thirds of his life, also had some sound career advice to share.
Not having the opportunity to go to University he instead attended night school after work for eight years and eventually qualified as an accountant. “I must confess that accountancy was never my dream profession but it did come with certain financial advantages so I was impatient to progress. Some people probably mistook that impatience for ambition but, in reality, I simply felt that I could be as good as the next guy. If he or she can do that job, then so can I; so why shouldn’t I go for it?
He moved through the ranks pretty quickly and as a result, firmly believes that whatever your background; whatever your qualifications and whatever your hopes or aspirations, you need to have faith in yourself.
“Anything is possible if you believe in yourself and apply yourself to achieving it,” said Mr Padgett who started work at the Treasury in 2001 and held the role of Financial Secretary before Chief Executive.
He was quick however to encourage people to separate their work and private lives.
“Give your all at work but remember that it is only a part of your life. My closest friends know that I regard work as something necessary to finance what I do with the rest of my life. After all, as my wise old grandfather used to say ‘if work was so great they wouldn’t have to pay you to do it,’” said Mr Padgett.
Referring to financial management and investment to which he had always taken a “prudent approach,” Mr Padgett said the Islands had been extremely fortunate to see economic wealth accumulate; initially from fishing and more recently from oil exploration which had made many things possible.
“We have first world services and the Government is generous in many areas. However, public policy-making needs to be done carefully and responsibly. The business of Government is easy when there is lots of money available. Spending it is not a problem and there will always be plenty of new initiatives and ideas around. However, unaffordable and unsustainable policies must be avoided or painful spending and service cuts might be the result.”
Mr Padgett and his wife Val have lived in the Falklands longer than they have anywhere else and rightly consider themselves Falkland Islanders.
Early next year they plan to set sail into the wide blue yonder for a few years in search of new adventures and may well sail into Stanley Harbour at some point in the not too distant future, said Mr Padgett.
“Hopefully the public jetty will be finished by then,” he added.
Mr Padgett thanked his work colleagues for their support during his four and a half years as Chief Executive. “I wish our fellow Islanders well for the future and I sincerely hope we will be back one day.”