POLITICAL OPPOSITION, CONCERNED NGOs AND PUBLIC HAVE HEAVY RESPONSIBILITY OF MONITORING, ANALYSING FOR TRANSPARENCY
IT has often been said that the discovery of Oil in any country brings with it both blessings and curses. One such curse which has descended upon Guyana is the plethora of advice and fearsome threats from both local and foreign sources foretelling the frightening dangers which lie in wait to envelop the country. Such threats range from the Dutch Disease, whereby a country becomes dependent on the Oil economy and all other economic activity is sacrificed, and when oil prices fall, or deposits run out, underdevelopment and poverty re-emerge. Or the country would be overwhelmed with corruption with the political class and others in authority massively stealing public funds leaving the country in economic disarray and ruin. Or others are advocating handing over the revenues to the population so that they could be involved in a happy spending splurge until the wealth is exhausted. Or others are advocating discontinuing the oil and Gas industry and leaving the deposits on the earth, and this will end all troubles, including environmental ones. If these and other such views are given free rein and monopoly of space they all demand, the country would be overwhelmed with this chaos of competing advice, come to a standstill and then sink deeper into poverty and underdevelopment.
Fortunately, there is a group among the leadership of the country who are determined to break out of this Sargasso Sea of chaotic opinions and advice and chart a positive course of action. They knew that for centuries, from the time of Sir Walter Raleigh, Guyanese people knew that their land was rich in varied resources, which, if exploited, would transform Guyana into a paradise on earth. It was this dream which sustained the morale of the Guyanese people in poverty, in facing the travails of life, in the socio-political embroglio generated by politics and even when they were in exile in foreign lands. The key to opening this treasure house of resources was a vast amount of investment capital which never seemed to be forthcoming. Then suddenly, oil and gas were discovered, and almost magically, the developmental capital dreamt of for centuries became available, and it was the shock of this which has led to the explosion of the chaotic advice and views which now threaten to submerge Reality.
The challenge now facing Guyanese and their leadership is how best to deploy the resources to achieve the long-dreamt of social and economic transformation. Fortunately, a group in the Guyanese leadership has had a wide international exposure and is assured that they would be able to avoid the pitfalls which had been faced by other oil and gas countries.
Vice President, Dr. Bharat Jagdeo, who is one of the spokespersons for this leadership, has reiterated that “the money would be spent on education;health care; infrastructure; and assistance to non-oil industries. . . . These four areas will attract the bulk of the resources and are part of a broader plan to ensure that Guyana’s economy would continue to thrive long after Oil resources would have been exhausted”.
President Dr Irfaan Ali, in his recent address at the Harvard Business School, reinforced the programme Dr Jagdeo had adumbrated: “Guyana is now poised to be one of the wealthiest countries in the Hemisphere; we intend to employ the gains from exploiting these deposits into initiatives geared at expanding the economy, improving competitiveness, giving people the best social services, increasing productivity, enhancing food production and building new sectors”.
These plans have already begun to fructify in Education: cash grants and uniform grants have already been given to every child in both the private and public schools. Twenty thousand online scholarships in various disciplines at several international schools and universities have been on offer and 6000 have already been awarded in the first year. These disciplines qualify the student for employment in various fields, including the oil and gas industry. To ensure that no one is left behind, a three-month course has been mounted to help students qualify themselves to satisfy the entry requirements of both tertiary and specialised technical programmes. Local educational institutions are being methodically upgraded as, for example, the Port Mourant Training Centre, which is now being transformed into a National Oil and gas institute and new schools have begun to be built in some areas which had long needed them.
In the Health Sector, the hospitals and health centres are methodically being upgraded and plans to build new hospitals are being materialised. Drug supplies are never allowed to run out and modern equipment and state-of-the-art procedures are being introduced in the Georgetown Public Hospital, the main referral hospital. For example, the X-ray system does not now require the use of film, and there are many more dialysis machines available and the dialysis procedure has become highly subsidised and more accessible. There are a number of brilliant surgeons who are doing operations locally, which patients who could afford it, once went abroad to have done. The National Eye Clinic in Berbice is again functional.
Infrastructure Development has been equally progressing with the award of contracts to build or refurbish key roads and bridges and the main river ferry has been renewed with assistance from India. Quick, easy and safe connectivity with all parts of Guyana has commenced.
The non-Oil and Gas Sector has begun to enjoy constructive assistance. Small businesses and industries have been accorded grants and loans, especially in the case of start-ups. When the prescriptions offered in the Local Content Act are used, local companies and workers, especially blue collar workers, will enter a new phase of prosperity and expansion and the cheapening of electrical power with the gas-to-power project, the hydropower, solar and wind projects will ensure a strong and growing industrial sector. Agriculture, in its many-faceted developments, has taken off and has started to supply the US$6-billion Caribbean food market.
With this drive to create a strong, self-sustaining non-Oil economy, the concomitant of a continual build-up of the future generations Inheritance Fund within the Natural Resources Fund (NRF) remains a priority.
The Political Opposition, concerned NGOs and the public at large have a heavy responsibility of monitoring, dissecting and analysing these various fast-moving projects to ensure transparency, non-corruption, and the upholding of the public interest and in some cases they may have to engage professional, including foreign, expertise to assist them. They must also take advantage of the many opportunities within the Parliamentary System of airing their concerns and pressuring the authorities. Above all, all criticisms must be factual and constructive since empty abuse and untruths would, in the long run, make no impact and give the various executing agencies a free pass.