OP-ED | We will have the Good Life

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James McAllister

By James McAllister

IMMEDIATELY AFTER ExxonMobil announced its oil find in 2015, an army of naysayers emerged. They arrogated upon themselves the responsibility to convince Guyanese that this discovery was not good fortune, but rather, was akin to the uncovering of the Bubonic plague.

There were predictions of doom and gloom everywhere. Many local pundits joined the chorus, ‘this is the beginning of a resource curse,” they piped. According to them, inevitably, the fate of Venezuela and the Democratic Republic of the Congo awaits Guyana.
Whenever I read these predictions I am reminded of an experience I had as a child. One afternoon, while in first form, I was walking home from school – North Georgetown Secondary to East Ruimveldt. Just as I was about to pass the gate of the Botanical Gardens, I saw a bank note blowing in the wind and quickly picked it up before it was blown into the centre of the road. I looked around for the owner but no one was in sight, instead, there were several more notes being blown my way. I was bubbling up and down as I collected note after note. Still there was no owner in sight, and I was in a conundrum. This was too much money for me to manage, and no way would I be able to explain to my parents how I obtained that amount of money. The only option was to go home and give it to my mother, and hope she gives me a “small piece.”

Then I was startled by a loud shout by a man across the road. “Hey bai, wuh yuh gah deh?” Instinctively I put my hands in my pocket to hand over the money, and then it dawned upon me that this man did not know what I found. No way it belonged to him (I knew guys like him from East Ruimveldt; they always pounced to convince younger boys that anything found is of no value, but were always willing to collect). Stupidly I said, “this is not your money.” This seemed to have energised the man, and he marched me into the security hut in the Ministry of Agriculture compound. “This lil wun fine sum money crass de road deh an he ain’t want gimme,” he declared to two men sitting in the hut. They held me in the hut for at least 90 minutes, cajoling, threatening, warning; all in an effort to get me to hand over the money. “You will get bad luck”, “you will get lock up”, and “we will find the person who lost it” were some of the lines used. The half-hearted attempts to put their hands in my pocket were met with resistance, but no real attempt was made to overpower me. Eventually, after about 90 minute’s detention, I handed over the money. They took every cent.

This incident convinced me that in life there are always people, who, because of their better circumstances, believe they are more entitled to your good fortune or windfall. Like our “oil find” naysayers, they try to convince you there is no real value in what was bestowed on you; it is more trouble than it is worth; do not expect any real benefits. In the main, most of these people are just talk, because they could do nothing to change your situation. However, when politicians and civil society opinion leaders, as in Guyana’s case, team up and coordinate a strategy to deliver the message of doom and gloom, it is an ominous sign. Are they hoping, if given the opportunity to be in government, they could make merry with the nation’s resources. That we would be so conditioned by the gloom and doom, we will not question our continued poverty and their sudden opulence. As a nation, we must collectively reject the messages of gloom and doom. We are on the precipice of the “Good Life,” as was promised by President David Granger, and we must claim it. Let it be known that we know, and are fully aware, that the oil find is transformational and no one will deprive us of it.

On the basis of oil revenue alone, our GDP should increase at least 300 per cent, from US$3.6B to US$13B by the mid-2020s. Some experts even estimate GDP could increase a whopping 1000 per cent by 2030, or move to US$30+B. Let’s put this in perspective. Guyana’s current GDP is smaller than the GDP of Trinidad, Jamaica, Bahamas, and Barbados. However, it is larger than the GDP of Belize, St. Lucia, Antigua, Grenada and St. Kitts. However, when GDP reaches US$13B, Guyana’s economy will be larger than all of the aforementioned except Trinidad and Jamaica. By 2030, when GDP reaches US$30B, Guyana’s economy will be larger than all of the aforementioned.

Some people will argue that a country’s GDP could be misleading as it relates to the quality of life of its citizens. For instance, Guyana’s GDP is larger than St. Lucia, Antigua, and St. Kitts, yet thousands of Guyanese have gone to these islands for a better life. This is because they have a higher GDP per capita.

At the moment, Guyana’s per capita GDP is US$4,600. The per capita GDP of St. Kitts, Antigua, and St. Lucia are US$17,900, US$14,800, and US$9,700 respectively. The GDP of Barbados, Trinidad, and Jamaica are US$16,300, US$16,100, and US$5,100 respectively. As an aside, the per capita GDPs of all the aforementioned countries are higher that the pet capita GDP of India, which stands at US$2,000. The per capita GDP of China is US$8,800.
By 2025, Guyana’s per capita GDP will be approximately US$17,300. This will be double the average GDP of an upper middle-income country, and higher than all of the previously mentioned countries except St. Kitts. By 2030, Guyana’s per capita GDP could be as high as US$48,000. In terms of world ranking, this would place Guyana between the Netherlands and Austria. It will be higher than Canada, Germany, France, Japan, United Kingdom, the UAE, and all the countries in the Caribbean and Latin America.

This does not mean that Guyana could maintain an armada of aircraft carriers in the Caribbean Sea to enforce its will. The fact is, with a GDP at US$30+B, we will still have a relatively small economy, and will not be able to afford such luxuries. This is how we must look at it. The size of its GDP is an indicator of the level of influence a country has in the world. On the other hand, the size of its per capita GDP is an indicator of the quality of life a country could provide for its people. By 2025, Guyana should be able to provide its citizens with a quality of life equal to, or better than most countries in the Region. By 2030, Guyana’s quality of life will be equal to, or better than all, but a few, countries in the world. This is the “Good Life” President David Granger promised. Those who say otherwise must be viewed with suspicion. Those who suggest oil revenue should not be used in the short term to develop infrastructure and improve competitiveness have nefarious agendas. Yes, work has to be done to improve our systems and processes as we prepared for the oil economy. Guyanese have always shown innovativeness, resilience, and industry. We will have the Good Life.