Leadership for a new era

OPEC Bulletin Commentary August-September 2016

Changes in leadership often herald broader organizational changes — and sometimes a change of direction. This is often as true of national governments as it is of large corporate enterprises.

At OPEC, however, the regular transition from one Secretary General to another over the years is a bit different, since leadership changes at the very top are necessarily accompanied by one important condition: regardless of who serves as the Chief Executive of the Organization, they must remain committed to the OPEC Statute and to the Organization’s three Solemn Declarations.

It is this commitment to the Organization’s three-part mission of working towards (a) Member Country cooperation, (b) market stability, and (c) protecting the interests of producing countries that Secretaries General over the years — from different continents, cultures and historical traditions — have faithfully maintained.

OPEC’s new Secretary General, Mohammad Sanusi Barkindo, who was appointed at the Organization’s 169th Meeting of the Conference in June this year, follows this tradition. Assisted by officers and staff at the OPEC Secretariat, he has the opportunity now to lead OPEC into the future — and remind the world that a key feature of the Organization has always been to highlight internal cohesion and strive towards unity.

Certainly, throughout the Organization’s long history, discussions and debates and the exchange of various views and opinions have always taken place. On occasion, these have taken place in difficult environments and with some Member Countries labouring under quite difficult economic, political, or social conditions. But regardless of the tenor of the conversation, deliberations among the Organization’s Member Countries have always served, in the end, to inform the research, analytical and advisory work of the Secretariat — which ultimately informs the decisions of OPEC’s leadership.

In fact, the wisdom gained over the years from these experiences indicates that without such open — and oftentimes frank — discussions, no effective consensus or unity can be reached among Member Countries; and that without constant reference to the OPEC Statue and the Solemn Declarations of Algiers (1975), Caracas (2000) and Riyadh (2007), there can be no real progress towards the achievement of OPEC’s mission.

Barkindo knows the importance of all this well enough. He comes to Vienna already with extensive experience with both the OPEC Secretariat and OPEC Member Countries. Having represented Nigeria as a national representative at OPEC meetings in the mid-1980s under the legendary then-Minister of Petroleum Resources Dr Rilwanu Lukman, and having served as Nigeria’s National Representative for OPEC from 1993 to 2008, while also serving as Deputy Managing Director of Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas (a joint venture between NNPC, Shell, Total and Eni), and having been appointed Group Managing Director of the NNPC, Barkindo brings not only industry knowledge but a deep understanding of the challenges and issues that routinely face the Organization.

At the same time, however, it is to be expected that the new Secretary General will bring to the Secretariat a new style of management and a different way of discharging his duties. But no matter how much a new style or culture permeates the hallways and meeting rooms of the Secretariat, it is also true that, broadly speaking, the interests and objectives of the Organization shall not change. Permanence is, after all, a complement of the fundamental market stability that OPEC seeks to bring to the world of oil.

There is no doubt then that Barkindo will be as committed to the Organization’s core mission as all of his predecessors have been over the years. As the Chief Executive of the Organization, he shall listen to and respond to the interests and needs of the Organization’s 14 Member Countries. In the spirit of his doughty predecessors, he shall navigate the uncertain waters of the global economy and the international oil market. And with sagacity and empathy, he shall lead the Organization into the future, all the while ensuring that OPEC’s role continues to be one of safeguarding the interests of Member Countries, ensuring the stabilization of prices and securing a regular supply of petroleum to consuming nations.

While there are bound to be occasional surprises that will undoubtedly test the mettle of the Organization, there should be no doubt that the future of the Organization is in steady, capable hands. As Barkindo told Bloomberg in an interview on June 2: “I am confident that the future is bright [and that] this Organization will not only continue to survive but will continue to adapt to [the] changes that are sweeping the global industry and the world at large.”

In the coming months, the new Secretary General shall face these changes squarely in close consultation with Member Countries and other oil-producing countries. In fact, the task of consultation and dialogue will be an ongoing one. Already some of the changes that have swept the world — and the challenges they have created — are on the agenda for discussion by the Secretary General and other stakeholders at the 15th Ministerial Meeting of the International Energy Forum (IEF), to be held in Algiers, Algeria, on September 26–28 this year.

It is certain that Barkindo will bring his extensive experience and insights to bear on these and other future discussions. In his first month, he has demonstrated the importance he places on dialogue and consultation and has already shown that he offers new leadership for a new era. And looking to the long-term — and to the new era that OPEC is embarking on as it nears its 57th year of global leadership next year — we are confident in the knowledge that Barkindo will not only find the transition into his new role at the helm of the Organization smooth but that he will make important contributions to the industry to the faithful fulfilment of OPEC’s important global mission.

OPEC Bulletin August-September 2016

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