This has been one hard ugly lesson

Dear Editor,

The government erred terribly on how it allowed ExxonMobil developments to get ahead of it, and to its detriment.  It erred when it failed to communicate frankly and sensibly.  It erred when it permitted money matters to make it look shady, secretive, and possessing perverse intentions.  Now it must learn, adjust, and grow.  It cannot afford another of these deplorable errors in judgment.

First, there cannot be anymore half measures or subtleties; the eyes and ears (if not all the senses) of the entire nation are strained to breaking point and concentrated full time on everything related to oil.  That is both a blessing and a curse: the government can neither flinch nor hesitate nor advance nor withhold without the worst being associated with its words, postures and actions.  Whatever it delivers, it will always be seen as short; whatever it conceals will be seen as evil; whatever it negotiates will be believed to have some drawback for those at the table.  In all of this, the choices are clear: the government must show itself as being responsible and honourable, while prioritizing the nation’s best interests, and only the nation’s interests.

Second, this government has to be wise enough to appreciate that nothing is a secret, or stays a secret, for too long here.  It is why I am awed at its predecessor’s foresight and ability either to drown or burn or bury or otherwise eliminate all trails.  Still dots are connected and pictures and participants emerge.  This is what happened to this government today, in this most sensitive and roiling of issues.  There has to be the realization that the mindset of Guyanese is that oil is a rich bequest left in a will; everyone is a beneficiary and no one is turning their backs.  In fact, every Guyanese navel string is wrapped around the promises of this precious gift.  In fact, the only thing that comes to mind in terms of a challenge to the local obsession with oil is the result of national elections.  For all these reasons and myriad others, this government has an obligation to be immaculately transparent by being up front and centre, as circumstances are conducive, not because it is concerned about leaks, but to manifest to all stakeholders and citizens that this is its way of doing business.  Right-thinking persons foamed over and fumed at the previous government’s immovable dedication to secrecy; the current one must be distinguished by differentiating itself on the principled and refreshing side.  I yearn for this; there cannot be more of the same old story.  Clarity, completeness, and timeliness, both unforced, must be guiding principle and actual operating standard, as reinforced by what is disclosed and when ‒ and how, too.

Third, the government has to realize that anything that has the merest whiff of money (whether speculation as to its arrival or suspicion of its removal) raises the hackles and ire of all; the nation has been scorched too often and by too much.  Trust is at always at low tide; it is just as frequently overwhelmed by chronic disbelief through an amalgam of insight, rumour, concoction, and all the rest at which this country is now expert.  No government can function progressively when its conduct fans such flames, through either unthinking or incomplete approaches.  Moreover, history has shown that governments in this society can get away with lots of things, including harassment, discrimination, intimidation and inequity and the like.  On the other hand, mishandling money, as in corruption, electrifies and galvanizes Guyanese; it is what contributed to the previous one losing its head.  Today, the stakes are higher, as oil has converted every Guyanese into auditor, banker, speculator, box-hand participant, and even actuary, too.  Every citizen rightly believes that they are stakeholders and must protect their interests.  Thus, the attention is ferocious and unrelenting.  I think that this is for the better and holds feet to the fire.  Any government that behaves contrarily is going to find itself bogged down and distracted by open confrontations or crafty ambushes.

Fourth, I recommend that the government makes it a practice to consult on an ongoing basis with key presences in this country, and none more so than the opposition.  When America readies itself for war, or similar matters of national import, the president usually briefs the Congressional leadership.  Even if there is the high risk of spillage, I would take that tack.  This is what should prevail with oil, as developments occur.  None can claim surprise, being left behind, or being blindsided.  This also defangs potential dangerous strikes.

Last, this has been one hard ugly lesson; it is also a dirty one.  The way forward has to be straight up, straightforward, and straight down the middle through and through.  Any other way is of the old and self-destructive.  Momentary gains are flimsy and pyrrhic.

Yours faithfully,

GHK Lall

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