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Two Sundays ago, this publication carried a story addressing racial equity in the oil and gas sector. Former Minister of Finance Winston Jordan spoke about existing racial disparity with groups being able to benefit from the sector. He noted African Guyanese are lagging behind, and when compared to other ethnicities within Guyana, Africans have not been able to effectively tap into the sector as is being done by the local business tycoons. To this end he made a call for racial equity.
Jordan’s observation is not only based on data but should be seen as a call to attention to leaders in the African Guyanese community. The oil and gas resources belong to all Guyanese. It is only fair that the enabling environment be created for all Guyanese to benefit at every phase, skill set and in every sector. It is important to not only have a national strategy that could achieve this but laws, policies and programmes to make it happen.
There is a need to create a Local Content that allows for meaningful participation of all Guyanese, inclusive of an Affirmative Action system that would allow those lagging behind financially and otherwise the resources for active involvement and participation. Some sort of programme to the effect should be conceptualised, developed and implemented.
Only a few days ago President Irfaan Ali called on the Trinidad and Tobago owned Caribbean Airlines Limited to involve more Guyanese in its operation. It is hardly unlikely that the president’s call will only remain a call and there would not be concomitant action on the part of his government to follow through and achieve results. A similar approach is needed in the local oil and gas sector but this should not be left to the president alone.
The Main Opposition, the A Partnership for National Unity and Alliance for Change (APNU+AFC) which Jordan served as finance minister, has a major role to play. Electoral evidence continues to show African Guyanese have overwhelmingly provided the coalition support. Decision making on oil and gas will not only happen in the boardroom of ExxonMobil and other oil giants, but also in the Executive at Cabinet meetings and in the National Assembly, among other places though lesser in political weight are no less significant.
The trade union will have to have a say in the management of oil and gas, as the religious community, the media, non-parliamentary political parties, civil society and the man and woman in the street. The congruence of these ideas must not only be seen as talk or talking past each other but realise meaningful involvement of all Guyanese. At the same time the African Guyanese community as well as other ethnic communities would have to realise that they need no urging, other than the right to participate and benefit, to get up and get or agitate that their leaders do.
In this Information Age Guyanese have more than enough opportunities to access the experiences of other oil rich countries and learn from the various ethnic groups how they are able to benefit and what caused others to be deprived. This is not the time for complacency because lest Guyana becomes a tale of two cities where the right gets richer, and the poor get poorer. Former Minister of Finance Winston Jordan has brought to the nation’s attention a story of economic inequity. It is a story deserving not only of conversation but measures being put in place to achieve ethnic equity in the oil and gas sector.