A VERY interesting ‘Letter from the Grave’ was published by the Mauritius Times on April 9, 2021, purportedly from the late President Lee Kuan Yew, who led the island for 31 years and died 23 March 2015, aged 91.
Lee was an extraordinary leader who turned a little island like Saint Lucia into a proud Asian nation, thanks to the brave and firm decisions he took to turn his country around, not for himself but for his people.
The ‘Letter from the Grave’ was supposedly addressed to world leaders and the jury is still out as to whether Lee actually wrote it and arranged for it be published after he departed on his forever trip along the River of No Return.
The whole point of the letter – obviously a product of a fertile imagination — was to underline the importance of Leadership, why leaders should not just follow the money, why good leadership breeds good following and why leaders of poor countries shouldn’t fly in private jets to international aid conferences.
But while some may be more interested in who penned it, every part of the 1,250-word letter is equally interesting.
I was indeed taken by the sections referencing how the country became a big player on the world’s oil platform – but, without a drop of oil…
Here’s Lee’s letter: We thought we were so poor it was impossible to survive on our own. We decided to go into a union with other countries to form Malaysia in 1963.
But because of ethnic riots, we were expelled from the union in 1965, and I broke down in tears because I did not see how we were going to survive as a country. It was so bad we had no potable water. We relied on other countries for water to drink!
We had no natural resources. No oil, no gold, no solid minerals, nothing. All we had were human beings — and ports…
Unlike Malaysia, we don’t have a single drop of crude oil on our land. But also, unlike Malaysia, we are one of the biggest exporters, not importers, of petroleum products.
Our country is in the top three of oil-refining centres in the world, yet we don’t have oil! We have some of the biggest refineries in the world.
Meanwhile, Malaysia, with all the oil it produces, has been importing petrol, diesel, kerosene, engine oil and other petroleum products for decades!
Let me shock you: we are the largest oil-rig producers in the world!
The World Bank ranks us as the easiest place to do business in the world.
I’m blushing, even in death!
Now, fake or not, the words make good reading…
I don’t know how it sounds in Guyana, but even from a distance, they left a familiar ring…
Yes, Guyana has oil, but how many refineries?
The 83,000 square-mile Caribbean nation sits on the crust on the new global oil frontier in the Guiana Shield and the industry’s goliaths are lining-up to extract, sell and pay royalties, but down-the-road Guyana has to think of refining its own oil at home, eventually adding this aspect to the Local Content law that preserves certain jobs for locals or ensures certain services are provided within the nation’s wide borders.
It would be foolish to think the nation’s planners today don’t know how much more sense it will make to locate and/or relocate refining of Guyana’s oil products within Guyana.
Saudi Arabia’s experience is pregnant with lessons for Guyana about the fact that, contrary to what Prime Minister Dr Eric Williams said back in the 1970s, oil can in fact ‘spoil’ — as the Saudi Kingdom that was said to have the most oil in the world and more dollars than sand, but has lost that place to Venezuela and is now having to raise taxes to keep its economy oiled.
So, Guyana has all the lessons before it to have concluded long ago that just like water and eggs, it cannot put all its oil into one basket: the water will drain-out, the eggs can all break together – and oil too, albeit slower.
One of the biggest prospects is that Guyana’s oil wealth, managed properly by governments with the requisite skills and intent, can help oil those other natural resources that have remained in the ground because the country just couldn’t afford to extract.
The bauxite companies didn’t build a smelter in Guyana as it was more profitable to export the upgraded raw material at high prices with low taxes; Omai led the way for big-time gold extraction; and Barama chopped into forestry – and in all three cases, as now, Guyana has had to lay the bed and make it possible for the oil companies to want to come and have guaranteed bigger Bed-and-Breakfast than Air B&B.
That’s still how the world turns today, but with eyes on tomorrow, Guyana has to start looking too at the big projects that it can host like no other CARICOM member-state (except Suriname): an aerospace launchpad like the European Space Agency has next-door in French Guiana.
Guyana’s colonial-era railway infrastructure can be revisited with eyes on a high-speed railway system linking the Guianas; and a satellite city along the Soesdyke-Linden highway would have much promise for better and faster air and rail links to Suriname.
And if Guyana and Venezuela’s leaders can eventually kick the political roadblock obstacles out of their way (considering that everything and anything is always possible between neighbours) and work oil wonders together, what a wonderful thing that would be…
Before that, Guyana and China will, this year, observe 50 years of bilateral ties – and herein also lies new opportunities to set Guyana on that launchpad to prosperity for people being pursued by the current PPP/C administration.
And then there are the more immediate plans to improve people’s lives here and now – and not thereafter.
But first, today’s first real oil-and-gas budget.