One of the regrettable features of the unfolding discourse on Guyana’s oil find and its implications for the country’s future has been the shift in the focus of the public discourse from the portents of becoming an ‘oil economy’ for the development of the people and the enhancement of the welfare of the people to the issue of the division of the spoils between Guyana as the owners of the resource and the entity that undertook the investment and the risk associated with confirming the presence of oil and undertaking the recovery effort.
Akin to the diligent private sector response to the local content opportunity afforded by the fast-approaching 2020 dateline for the commencement of recovery, we have not all allowed ourselves to be consumed by the argument over whether the country is being afforded what one might call its fair share through the agreements reached with ExxonMobil. In fact, it is to the credit of the private sector that it has avoided the tunnel vision that can sometimes attach itself to the sort of protestations that have attended the that’s-not-fair discourse in which ExxonMobil is being portrayed in some quarters as getting by far the better end of the deal and undeservedly so. The advocates of the back-to-the-drawing-board are not only seeking to cite precedent for what they consider to be the customary indiscretions of ExxonMobil but are also arguing that the outcomes are due in large measure to the negotiating ineptitude of the Government of Guyana. Interestingly, in response to the public commentary on this issue which has been, at intervals, sustained and carping, the administration has kept its cool, even in the face of insinuations of incompetence and corruption.
One of the outcomes of the ‘discourse’ on contracts has been to cause much lesser attention to be paid to the task of fashioning a public agenda designed, first, to provide a broad and easily assimilated public understanding of the oil recovery process and how it will, in its various forms impact on Guyana as well as what the availability of oil will mean in socio-economic terms for the development of the country and the well-being of the people.
The positions taken by both the Government of Guyana and ExxonMobil in the midst of the ongoing that’s-not-fair discourse are, of course, pretty straightforward. Understanding, presumably, that it simply cannot change the contractual realities that now exist, the political administration has taken what appears to be an it-is-what-it-is position on the deal that it has. ExxonMobil, for its part appears altogether comfortable behind the legal barricade of its contractual understandings with the Government of Guyana. What persists at this time is the decibel level of the critics with their precedents for exploitation of oil-producing countries by global oil giants and increasingly shrill back-to-the-drawing-board calls. All of this, of course, has been taking place against the backdrop of an only limited public appreciation of the issues that comprise the broader discourse and what, until now, is the seriously delayed promise by the administration to roll out a public education programme on oil and gas and its implications.
Doubtless, there are those who may argue that over the months various entities, including the private sector, have hosted a number of conferences/ seminars/workshops on oil and gas. The problem has been that these fora appear to target their own ‘specialized’ audiences so that those audiences comprising those persons whom we loosely describe as ‘the average man (or woman)’ are virtually completely excluded from the discourse.
The public mood (whether we like it or not) appears to have more or less settled around the it-is-what-it-is position, that position being informed largely by a tiredness with the tedium of an argument with which many (perhaps even most Guyanese) are unable/unwilling to keep abreast. There is, the insistence of the advocates of the ‘not fair’ position that we soldier on with our protestations. One suspects that many (perhaps, again, most Guyanese) would welcome a shift in focus to ensuring that beyond 2020 those who rule apply generous measures of sound judgement to the management of the resources and the opportunities that will derive from such returns – considerable as they are likely to be – from our good fortune, It really is a matter of approaching the issue with a healthy measure of pragmatism.