My thoughts on Dr Mark Bynoe’s appointment at DoE

I was planning to write this week about the recent parliamentary debates over the role of the Bank of Guyana in the financial system and foreign exchange market. However, I will discuss the more recent appointment by President David Granger of the new head of the fledgling agency, the Department of Energy (DoE). There is heightened interest in the DoE, given the massive crude oil discoveries in Guyana’s Atlantic waters. President Granger selected Dr Mark Bynoe to head the DoE. There have been mixed reviews of the appointment. However, I feel there is much merit in the appointment, but also a few caveats. 

I would like to make it clear I have never met Dr Bynoe, but I have heard of him and came across a few of his academic papers over the years while doing my own research. We exchanged a few emails several years ago. I am sympathetic towards his appointment, not because he is an economist, but mainly because of his broad training. In previous writings, I mentioned the need for leaders to have a broad training and perspective because proper decision making requires synthesizing a wide amount of information and data, both qualitative and quantitative.

I also like the idea that his bachelor’s degree from the University of Guyana, awarded in 1991, is a double major in economics and geography. Interestingly, the 1991 graduation implies he is around 50 years old, thus presenting an interesting break from the age trend of Granger’s previous employment choices. However, Dr Bynoe appears to have a long-running relationship with the president, given his numerous publications on several important topics relating to geography, in the  Guyana Review going back to 1996.  The Guyana Review was managed for many years by Mr Granger before he was President. Dr Bynoe is well-published, however, in regional and international journals.

I am not so sure how environmental economists are trained in British universities, but in the United States anyone reading for a PhD in environmental economics would have taken a broad set of courses in natural resource economics and most likely energy economics as well. Those doing an American PhD in agricultural economics would also take a heavy dose of environmental economics classes. I am well aware of this because I chaired a search committee last year to hire an environmental economist for my work place. Nevertheless, Dr Bynoe has a master’s degree in Resource Management, which I presume would have a heavy amount of natural resource economics.

All the programmes mentioned above would require strong training in applied mathematical modeling and statistical analyses. Rigorous data analyses are a core part of the training in environmental economics, which should not be confused with environmental studies (there is a big difference!). This would be an extremely important quality if the DoE is to have a serious team performing a wide range of analyses for the government and people of Guyana. Dr Bynoe does not have to do the analyses himself; however, he needs to be able to propose the right questions, read the results of his team, work with the political class, and anticipate the oil companies.

Speaking about a team, the DoE would need different teams focusing on various sources of energy, oil and gas and hopefully renewables. I know the vision of many is for the DoE to have a singular focus on oil and gas. I think that’s a mistake. Dr Bynoe’s background is suitable for coordinating teams focusing on these various sources of energy. Who knows, renewable energy might once again get some legs in Guyana. Perhaps this is one of the things at the back of President Granger’s mind when he made this appointment?

Once the new head acknowledges he does not know everything, then the agency can be housed with very well-paid engineers, geophysicists, statisticians, energy economic modelers, experts skilled in GIS and similar tools, and specialists in different forms of renewable energy. These positions will require searching for skills inside and outside Guyana. The most important feature is these people must be mathematically agile and possess excellent computational mathematical skills. Otherwise, forget it, the agency will fail! It will become just another patronage ground for political party hacks. I am confident these ‘mathy’ people will have the capacity to deal with the oil companies, as well as provide the highest degree of service for the country. 

It must be made clear that these sub-divisions cannot be outsourced to consultants and consulting companies. There is now a culture of consultancy outsourcing in Guyana. It prevents the University of Guyana from doing original research and it likely incentivized the closure and destruction of the Institute of Development Studies. In the case of economic research, which I know very well, the multinational organizations and a few of the aid agencies have financed only tunnel-vision economic research, which focuses on a very circumscribed set of perspectives because of ideology. These organizations often define the research questions and the broad parameters of the studies. Political correctness is also a major feature of the economic research coming out from the IDB, World Bank and IMF. For example, they never acknowledge that the two main political parties are ethnic parties.

Therefore, if the DoE decides to outsource its core responsibilities to private consultants, the department is sure to fail. Of course, there is a role for consulting on a medium-term basis, but these have to at least be accountable to the DoE and not a private consulting firm. It is important that all the experts share a singular geographic space to facilitate the spillover of ideas. This will help in the cross fertilization of ideas from different subjects and methodologies. The business school people know this is a recipe for innovation; hence all the focus on incubators and location.

May the DoE be the incubator of engineering excellence that will solve the energy crisis that the country faced as far back as I can remember. If the DoE can pull it all together, then President Granger’s Green State Development Strategy might not sit that awkwardly after all with a fossil fuel-based economy, as is the singular focus these days. It would be a waste to ignore renewable energy given Guyana’s resource endowments. Since before the 2011 election, I have argued for a portfolio or mix of energy sources – including fossil fuels – linked up by a smart grid. Do readers remember my portfolio versus silver bullet argument?

Comments: tkhemraj@ncf.edu

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