The spectacular discoveries of oil in offshore Guyana, with promises of a glowing future, must be tempered with what that future really means and with the realities of today. It appears that Guyana stands to receive US$300 million a year for the first five years after production commences and a little over that sum for the twenty years thereafter. The size of Guyana’s economy is US$1.2 billion. This means that Guyana’s economy will increase by one-fifth as a result of oil revenue. This will be a significant boost but by no means a spectacular transformation. This figure is probably based on production of 100,000 barrels a day. It may well be that Exxon will produce far more than that amount for various economic reasons. While all of this is in the future, Guyana has pressing economic and political problems that require immediate solutions.
The dismissal of thousands of sugar workers will intensify poverty and crime across Guyana, particularly in the areas affected by the closures. Communities will deteriorate, drug taking and alcohol abuse will intensify and the economy will suffer from reduced spending. All of this will impact negatively on economic growth for 2018. By the time divestment concludes and some job opportunities emerge, the damage to the communities and their inhabitants would already have occurred. There is no immediate potential investment in Guyana’s economy on a scale large enough to absorb the dismissed sugar workers, or even a portion of them, that will make a difference to their dire situation. Any impact that a new oil industry may have is at least ten years away. By this time, an entire generation of workers and their children will be lost to productive labour by a decade of deprivation.
While the immediate economic prospects for Guyana are dim, the future prospects will remain hindered and embroiled in controversy unless there is a political solution. By political solution is meant the implementation of constitutional measures that will eliminate, contain or reduce the impact of the struggle for ethno-political domination in our politics. Unless purposefully confronted and resolved it will not go away. And unless reduced or eliminated, the half a century plus impatience, now at a boiling point, of a large number of Guyanese, at ‘race politics’ and ‘racial disunity,’ will continue to get worse. The efforts of many good people to reduce ethnic tension and to ‘bring people together’ will be frustrated. Our leaderships need to provide the example.
The need for ethno-political unity was given concrete recognition with the formation of the People’s Progressive Party in 1950 with a broad-based, multi-ethnic, leadership which received wide support at the 1953 general elections. As we all know, this unity did not survive. We also know that during the first half of the 1960s, the 1970s and once during the 1980s there were either proposals or discussions for some form of cooperation between the main political parties. These all failed. Finally, in 2002 the Peoples’ National Congress committed to ‘shared governance.’ This did not result in any material proposal until the 2015 elections when the APNU+AFC coalition proposed a series of constitutional reforms. The main proposals were that there would be separate presidential elections. The person securing the second largest number of votes would become the vice-president. All parties obtaining over 15 per cent of the votes would be entitled to share in the government. Little has occurred to implement these proposals.
A pattern has emerged in our politics. Both of our main political parties have gone through clearly defined metamorphoses. After losing office, they adopt confrontational postures, promising that they will return to office soon. After about a decade or more in opposition they adopt ‘power sharing’ policies. As soon as they secure office again, they abandon their promise. The Guyanese people cannot allow this to continue ad infinitum. It will jeopardise our economic security and our progress as an oil producing country.
A new political formation is now necessary to mobilise former AFC supporters with the same objective that the AFC had but which it is now hobbled from implementing ‒ constitutional reform to eliminate the politics of ethno-political domination. It will, of course, take a lot to gain the trust of the large mass of disappointed AFC supporters. But a firm, public and guaranteed policy that such a formation, if it does not gain an absolute majority, will not join in coalition with any political party or otherwise take ministerial or other positions in any government, will help. To attract credibility it must announce that it will give its support, particularly if it holds a balance of power for which it should strive if it falls short of a majority, to that party which will adhere to its agenda. That agenda will include a wide range of plans and proposals for Guyana’s economic and social development, with its foundation being detailed, continuous consultation with town and rural communities, but with the first item being constitutional reform leading to the end of ethno-political domination. If this can be achieved, it will transform Guyana.