Planning Beyond the Boundaries

AN article in last Saturday’s Guyana Chronicle (by Kemol King) says, “Guyana expects a tsunami of revenue inflows to its Natural Resource Fund (NRF) in the next four years, amounting to twice the size of its $552.9 billion (US2.6 billion) 2022 Budget.” It said estimates were that the country “expects” to earn revenues of US$957,874,800 in 2022, US$1,165,443,900 in 2023, US$1,335,315,100 in 2024 and US$1,781,842,700 in 2025. These figures, accounting for profits from oil royalties and interests, amount to US$5,240,476,500 – or $1.1 trillion in Guyana’s currency. As the writer noted, “It may be difficult for the average person to fathom just how much money this is” as “the 2025 inflows alone, nearly eclipse Guyana’s 2021 budget.” But President Irfaan Ali gave good indications of what these skyrocketing dollars-and-sense figures are intended to mean for all Guyanese. In his pre-budget address last Tuesday, the President said the nation’s oil-and-gas incomes will be leveraged to meet the goal of strengthening all sectors, among other things, “to make the other sectors more competitive, expand the country’s economic framework, improve competitiveness, enhance sustainability and build an economy standing on many different legs that can withstand global shocks and weather storms…”

By President Ali’s measure and based on his government’s figures, starting this year, some of Guyana’s oil revenues will be used to fund pressing development initiatives related to healthcare, education, infrastructure and other critical sectors, which will elevate Guyana to ‘Developed Status’ and allowing for the provision of a good standard of living for all Guyanese. This can be achieved, the President said, with the likes of gas-to-energy projects that will reduce power costs by 50 per cent and increase transport infrastructures (such as planned four-lane highways and the new Demerara River bridge) that will increase connectivity and decrease traffic congestion.

The nation’s new resources will also be used for “sustainable hospitals with the best trained medical personnel to provide world-class healthcare at little to no cost; and free education at Guyana’s premier public tertiary education institution, the University of Guyana.” “This is what is possible for Guyana,” the article noted, “with prudent management of Guyana’s oil revenues.” But it’s the article’s last telling point – about “prudent management” that’s the primary fulcrum of all other statements of intent in the mind-boggling figures in the latest national estimates of revenue and expenditure over the next five years. Previous PPP/C administrations since President Cheddi Jagan’s death in 1996 have established that proper management of the nation’s finances can result in the changes felt and seen since – and before the arrival of oil-and-gas revenues, or COVID-19.

The US$607 million worth of oil-and-gas royalties gave new girth to a US$2.6 billion national budget already pregnant with plans for economic and social progress; and with estimated revenues of over US5 billion in four years, it can be expected that those planning Guyana’s future for the next four years will also be looking beyond the ordinary to fulfil the President’s ‘Developed Status’ visions for Guyana beyond even climate change and environmental objectives. It’s also to be expected that with the resident expertise in national financial and economic planning, the administration will be looking outside (and way beyond) the traditional restrictions of the proverbial ‘box’ and expanding Guyana beyond its scattered and restricted population boundaries and across the largest territory in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). It doesn’t require a crystal ball, for example, for planners to be thinking in 2022 of undertaking studies into such future possibilities as: taking Guyana into the field of aerospace, high-speed railways, satellite cities, air-and-seaport hubs and bridges linking Guyana’s regions and neighbouring nations, hydro-solar-and-wind energy independence, Blue Economy development, Amazon and river-based eco-tourism, revival of bauxite and manganese industries for selected markets, marketing of forestry and unique agro-industrial and fishing products, developing Caribbean markets for quality rice and sugar, seafood, vegetables and fruit products – and refining Guyana’s oil.

And with Omai discovering more gold, the prospects for more mining and more royalties are also high. Without the expertise of the major oil giants, Guyana could not be planning to spend the money from the oil its people cannot drink, but resources which can change their lives for the better. Guyana’s location in the Guiana Triangle and the Amazon region, on the north-eastern shoulder of South America also places it at a geo-strategic advantage within the CARICOM group of nations, of which it is already the administrative capital. Its current resources and earnings also allow it to develop programmes that can embrace the new and emerging concept of The Youth Economy, involving identification of innovative youth skills and creation of a new sub-economy involving projects identified for their sustainability and supported by government, to transform youthful hobbies into paychecks.

Creation of new employment opportunities in an under-populated Guyana will not only encourage Guyanese abroad (who so desire) to return home to invest and/or work, while the Local Content Bill will ensure reservation of identified jobs and services for Guyanese — and fellow CARICOM citizens will also be able to share in the community’s newest opportunities in areas where Guyanese do not (yet) have the required skills. Ditto setting a regional example for other ‘big-size’ Caribbean nations in the area of climate financing. And instead of ships using the Guyana flag for illegal trade on the high seas, ships and airlines can be registered in Guyana for flights and voyages to Africa, Asia and other parts of the world with people and goods, both ways. Indeed, Guyana can take a new approach to developing everything from bananas and BG plantains to mangoes and manganese — and Industrial and Medical Marijuana, etc. However, all the above said and my fertile imagination notwithstanding, the overlying and underlining condition for even thinking of all the above remains the “prudent management of Guyana’s oil revenues.” So, will such new ideas see the light of day today, in these times? This week’s budget debate will tell.

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