If you know the history of the American ‘gold rush’ you’ll remember that as many as 300,000 people moved to California from 1848-1855 to try to find gold after someone had found the shiny metal on his land. Many of the gold miners had zero mining background however. Not surprisingly the greatest fortunes were not made by those who were searching for gold, but by those who sold shovels, alcohol and sex to the gold searchers.
In China, the State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) were urged by the Communist Party to go abroad as a prelude to The One Belt One Road initiative (launched in 2013) which aims to connect China to the world via networks of roads, railways, ports and other infrastructural projects. Many of the Chinese firms that went abroad looking for new opportunities had little or no experience, just like the gold seekers. But unlike the gold seekers, the Chinese do bring their own tools and don’t offer much opportunities to locals.
One of those SOEs was Guangdong Zhenrong Energy (GZE). Although it had never built a refinery, GZE managed to convince one of the world’s most repressive dictatorships in Myanmar in April 2016- one day before power was handed over to another government- to build the largest Burmese refinery. GZE, I’ve been told, had been telling Myanmar about the multibillion deal in Curaçao in order to score points with the Burmese. In Curaçao, just days before the elections of September 2016, GZE showed a flashy film about its plans in Myanmar minutes before signing a MoU with the Whiteman Administration.
Somehow the Curaçao committee in charge of the future of the Curaçao refinery (MDPT) was totally smitten with GZE. I say ‘somehow’ because the MDPT’s dealings with GZE were never transparent as I told the MDPT President in Parliament back in 2015. In the end GZE played us and Myanmar with the same domino tile. Changá (double play) in Papiamentu. Not bad for a group of rookie oil connoisseurs.
It did not stop however with the Whiteman Administration as some actors (including media outlets) would like us to believe. Subsequent Administrations (Koeiman, Pisas and Rhuggenaath) were not only persuaded by GZE, but considered it a celestial solution to our economic malaise. GZE signed MoUs with the most important actors of the local energy sector and convinced unions that thousands of new jobs were imminent. Unchallenged by politicians, GZE during a Parliament meeting professed its love for Curaçao, promised to build hotels, theme parks and yes, bail out a troubled local commercial bank while somehow finding time to build a new refinery.
Conspicuously most of the independent press was silent on this matter. Undoubtedly it had to do with an all expenses paid China trip to show off GZE which many media workers eagerly accepted.
Looking back I’m proud to have been one of the few people who’s gone against the current to voice my deep preoccupations, even after being ‘seriously warned’ by some local (ex)government people who I later on learned were paid GZE’s consultants, to keep quiet. Upon my return after a project in Myanmar I wrote extensively in 2017 on the dealings of GZE in that country and the investigations of the UN into their corporate behavior. In July 2018 I wrote that GZE would disappear from the map. This finally happened last month. Before that, GZE was kicked out of Myanmar.
No more GZE. The questions surrounding the GZE-Curaçao-MDPT saga have not gone away however. We need answers, accountability, no business as usual. However painful it may be, it’s always better to be up front than leave questions unanswered.