SINCE the large oil reserves were discovered in Guyana, there has been much advice, both from home and abroad, concerning how the oil revenues should be used.
Everyone seems to be in agreement that they should not be used in a splurge of wild consumption, but should be deposited in a fund to be used for such things as budgetary support, servicing our debts and easing other burdens on the nation’s finances and in economic development.
Over the years, Guyana’s economic growth and development had been gravely hampered by the dearth of available capital. Whatever funds were received from national revenues and from loans and grants were never enough to make any real dent in the developmental process. One of the leaders of the business community and of the private sector, the managing director and Chief Executive Officer of Demerara Distillers Ltd, Mr Komal Samaroo, had long been urging the very rational utilization of oil revenues. Last year, for example, in his memorable address to the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Mr Samaroo gave some very sane and practical advice to the business community and the nation. Mr Samaroo removed the mystique which tends to surround oil by pointing out that oil was a commodity like sugar or rice or bauxite and subject to the vagaries of international trade and prices, resulting in revenues sometimes sinking to low levels. Several oil producers, especially the smaller ones, who had become unduly dependent on oil revenues, felt the shock when international prices fell.
Another important fact he pointed out was that oil was a finite resource and not constantly renewable like agriculture and that at some time it will be depleted. More than one country has had this experience. Another reality that Mr Samaroo drew the nation’s attention to was the fact that having large oil revenues or reserves does not necessarily ensure a
country’s prosperity at all times. Nigeria, for example, should have been a more prosperous country than it is, or Venezuela or Iraq which once used to be among the rich nations due to their oil wealth, have for various reasons been reduced to a state of poverty. For its oil wealth to be a blessing rather than a curse, Guyana has to strive for social and political unity, has to eliminate crime, especially corruption at all levels and to be able to secure its borders so that its gold and diamonds and endangered animals are not smuggled out of the country and above all, making it impossible to smuggle in narcotic drugs.
From the days of Sir Walter Raleigh to the present, Guyana had always been recognised to be a country of great potential, but such potential was unrealisable because there was never developmental capital available. Now, for the first time in Guyana’s history, the country would be able to realise its dreams. Once the oil revenues begin to be spent on national development, a country would be created where the quality of life, the standard of living and the level of happiness of the Guyanese people would rival those of the most developed countries, and in any case, would be far greater than if the oil wealth was squandered in euphoric pleasures for a few years.
In his address, Mr Samaroo hinted at the transformation which oil revenues could accomplish. The details of such transformation would have to be worked out by economists, sociologists, engineers, security experts, and other professionals and intellectuals and some effort must begin to mobilise a core of such personnel. The infrastructure of the country is in dire need of development. This would include upgrading the present road system and building new roads, for example, roads connecting the Interior to the Coast and improving water and air transport. Even schemes like building a railway between the Rupununi and the Essequibo coast to accommodate cargo from North-east Brazil for shipping could be within reach of accomplishment. Such a scheme would imply the creation of a new port in Essequibo.
The Education System could be revolutionised as Singapore did when it was preparing for its economic pre-eminence. Or the super Indian technical schools created by Pandit Nehru which is largely responsible for India’s eminence in IT technology. The University of Guyana could be adequately funded to grow into an international university with international staff. It would then be the dynamo of research in various fields relevant to Guyana’s development.
The telecommunications industry which had long had the reputation of being in a state of expensive backwardness, would be brought into the modern world and bigger and more able companies would be attracted to the Guyana market. The replacement of fossil power by cleaner hydro, solar and wind power could now be achieved with adequate financing and in a short number of years, Guyana’s power supply would be completely green and renewable.
Other aspirations which Guyanese had dreamed of for years would now be realisable. The Industrial sector would become more competitive, since it would enjoy cheaper power and the number of industries would grow with an attendant export trade. Agriculture would become modernised and become competitive and even the Sugar Industry may be revived and revitalised. We endorse Mr Samaroo’s vision of the use of oil revenues as a developmental tool and are also confident that government will deploy such revenues to the best interest of the Guyanese people since the government’s approach has always been holistic.