What the various international experts on oil and gas, who are here at the invitation of the Government of Guyana, are telling us is what the people of Guyana have been telling their government which continues to ignore their voices. From Guyanese born international expert Dr Jan Mangal who has called for transparency, publicly accountability and respect for the role/voices of the people in the formation and development of the industry, to the most recent pronouncement by Eric Parrado, International Finance Coordinator at Chile’s Ministry of Finance who helped build that country’s Sovereign Wealth Fund, the role of the people in the industry’s development and safeguards is being emphasised.
What is clearly coming across here is that the people are looking at governance and the management of their business and resources through a more level-headed lens than most of the politicians. Oil and gas will result in a major shift in this country’s economy, bringing with it social, economic and political consequences. If approached in a divisive and exclusionary manner the consequences can be dire.
Shutting out the people from the ramifications, implications and benefits of this new industry makes no sense. Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley in a recent address to his nation reiterated to his people the importance of their knowledge of and involvement in what is happening in their oil and gas industry. We are yet to see a similar pronouncement from our Head of Government.
Some may argue that Janet Jagan conducted the initial exploration exercise in secrecy; likewise Bharrat Jagdeo and Donald Ramotar kept the populace in the dark, but are now calling for transparency, involvement, and accountability, which they denied the people and opposition when they were in government. Nothing is wrong with noting their double standards and duly reminding them, but political growth requires doing away with acts and practices that have proven inimical to good governance and the people’s well-being.
The benefits that will flow from oil and gas must be for all, not some. They must cut across ethnicity, political association, class, creed and geography. We are once again reminded of this, more so the politicians, by Parrado of the need to develop laws built on full consensus, ie with the involvement of government, opposition and civil society, to ensure the money flowing from this industry is not misused. I along with others, including the man and woman in the street, have been calling on the David Granger/Moses Nagamootoo government for a similar approach and not to repeat the errant acts of their predecessors in the handling of this matter.
We are yet to see a national outreach, akin to that which was utilised in the nationalisation of sugar and bauxite, where the government, political opposition, stakeholders and masses were involved in constant discussions that shaped the country’s position via laws and moved toward the implementation of decisions. The oil and gas industry will be of similar consequence to sugar and bauxite at this time of our development. Instead of an inclusionary approach we are witnessing elite fora to discuss issues relating to the industry where only the rich and privileged can attend. This is an unacceptable approach by the government whose authority to govern came from the masses and to whom they must always remember they are accountable and in whose interest they must govern.
Already there are signs that the 2020 General and Regional Elections will be more about who must be elected to office to oversee the management of the new industry as against what programmes, policies and laws will be put in place to ensure the holistic well-being of the people. This desire to secure the reins of government will make these elections tumultuous and bitter. Shrewdness requires taking the approach of international experts of repute and the masses to avoid what is potentially leading up to be bitter political confrontations, and opportunities to exploit our resources not in the interest of the people.
There is a sincere hope that the advice of these experts, of which we have the benefit through the media, are heeded by the government which sought them out and invited them here.