A little more oil in my lamp I pray
A little more oil in my lamp to keep it burning
Keep it burning till the break of day
The chorus is a snippet from a popular song that is sang in many Christian churches. Often sang fervently, it is a metaphorical song.
For the religious, one interpretation is that it signifies a thirst for spiritual food—spiritual food to get one through the darkest of times in hopes of a brighter day, a clearer vision of one’s path or until one gains their salvation.
Now in this season of oil discoveries in Guyana, a season of hopes and certainties of riches rising out of the waters, do people want more than a little oil in their lamps? What about the ordinary man? The Guyanese who may not be dreaming of riches involving private jets and expensive vacations, but a little to improve their lives; a little to ensure that their children’s futures are secure, a little to ensure that in their senior years they can relax and not worry about a meagre pension. They are questioning how the discoveries of oil will benefit them. They are asking if they will be left to grasp for crumbs when the powerful have had more than their share.
The old man, not long for this world, he questions. With a distant look in his eyes and the knowledge that he would probably not reap the benefits of oil, he has hopes for his grandchildren in a Guyana evolved. He hopes also that there will still be life in him in 2020 so that he can witness the production of the very first barrels.
An old woman slowly makes her way out the post office, pension tucked between papers.
“Granny fix your money,” I voiced, lest some vagrant or petty thief snatch it. Granny’s thoughts on the oil finds are fleeting. Perhaps she is lucky.
As for the vagrant and petty thief, will rehabilitation or their conscience motivate them to stop their torment of others when the oil starts to flow? Shouldn’t they also have hopes for a little oil in their lamps?
“What’s in it for me?” the question resounds.
Already, skepticism has taken root among the people:
“It is great that we have found this resource, BUT…I am not very hopeful.”
“I am not very optimistic.”
“I think ExxonMobil will take advantage of us as foreign companies usually do, and the government will mismanage the funds and deceive the public.”
“Oops, some of that has already happened.”
“Oil equals corruption.”
“I think the oil will go the same way it did for some countries. The government and their people will get, and the people will feel disenfranchised.”
But there is not only doubt; there are a few who thought that life will improve– infrastructure, education, the arts and culture, they dream.
And yet there are others who cannot say for sure how our lives as ordinary citizens will improve. But they are not trembling in their shoes and their faith is not wavering because they believe the government will keep the lights burning and once the production of oil begins the lamps will never be empty.
However, the reality is that the people have already felt that they have been deceived in some ways.
Many are appalled by the agreement to a 2% royalty. However, Minister of Natural Resources Raphael Trotman has said that in the future Guyana will negotiate for higher royalties and an increase on the 50% share of the profits that was agreed to in the Exxon agreement.
Many have hopes for the proposed sovereign wealth fund, which aims to secure revenue for the future generations.
There are many dreams that the nation’s children will fully benefit from the profits of oil. That their lights will burn bright, putting them on par with the developed world. Finally, instead of running away, no one would want to leave. Guyanese who have left will loudly announce their return. What we would not have accomplished in 51 years of Independence will finally be realised.
Those are sweet reveries, like feel-good sermons or moving songs. But they are only dreams.
If we stop dreaming for a moment, put our fantasies on pause, the reality stares at us. Oil will not fix our problems as a nation.
Nevertheless, the Guyanese people want accountability; a clear understanding of what oil will really mean for them in their personal lives. While I am aware that there are ongoing efforts to educate the public, there are still many people who do not know what oil will bring and could be deceiving themselves with incredible dreams or eager pessimism because they expect nothing.
The Guyanese people want to know that we can trust our leaders to make the best decisions for us. They want to be certain that our leaders have the knowledge to deal with the institution that is known as ExxonMobil and that we are not being bamboozled. But from what we have already seen, can we say confidently that it is so?
The Guyanese people want no more surprises, no more shocking news that many hope is satire–like the revelation that if ExxonMobil were to be taken to court for something like an oil spill, Guyana will have to pay the legal fees. The revelations of such agreements have the ordinary man nervous and many are questioning the competence of our leaders, since all this is before even one barrel of oil has materialised.
A little more oil in my lamp to keep it burning; a little more trust, confidence, knowledge, and assurance that the best decisions are being made for us and our oil wealth will not slip away from us.
Keep it burning till the break of day; till Guyana is put first in all we do; till the country’s wellbeing in prioritized above greed; till selfishness and arrogance are put aside and it is the wellbeing of the people that is most important; till we can stand up to institutions like ExxonMobil and demand our fair share. But will this happen? Or will we the people be begging for just a little more oil in our lamps, because though the barrels will flow, in whose hands will most of the profits land?