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By GHK Lall
Guyanese hear, read, learn of more millions of US dollars deposited in the New York bank holding our oil fund (NRF) in the midst of higher crude prices. It an attractive consideration, certainly a good thing for this country and its citizens who are the holders of the bankbook. Similarly, citizens of this suddenly oil-rich country are made aware of withdrawals from the NRF to fund that creature christened “national development priorities.” It is a ravenous, long-bellied beast, which in the hands of Guyanese ruling politicians, the PPP Government, has endless utility, most of which are not necessarily in the interests of locals.
In short, we have oil and we have money, as a country. But what is that we have? We, the citizens and owners of this national patrimony? Do we have anything new? Are we experiencing anything differently? Have the lives of the Guyanese people undergone a pleasant, uplifting change?
This is what I can say with certainty. Yes, there is oil money and some of it has been withdrawn for grand sounding purposes. But all of that is out there and away from the ordinary citizen pondering his fate in a time when whatever he can hold onto is less, when his former high hopes now dwindle daily. It is as if this oil and the pluses of it are occurring in some other country, and not here, for all the difference it has made in the lives of Guyanese strapped and poor and struggling. More realistically, the discovery of oil and the over one billion in American dollars deposited seem to be from some science fiction movie. That is, happening in outer space. Definitely untouchable, not real, not meaning anything for the bulk of Guyanese, who worry of how much less they are going to carry home from the marketplace, how much more tightening of the belt they are going to have to do. If they tighten more, they risk cutting off circulation and toppling over. Forget about Christmas, too many Guyanese are compelled by harsh circumstances to focus on right now.
Though I have said this before, it is worth saying again to both President Ali and the PPP Government, so some registering may occur. It is said to keep knocking and there may be answering in time.
In this time of relative plenty, no Guyanese should be staring at scarcity on their table; far fewer of them should. It was the Exxon Country Head in Guyana, His Highness, Alistair Routledge, who sat us down like children in need of tutoring on how things are, where we are, and how magnificently his company, Exxon, has done for us. According to Massa Routledge, Guyanese has never had it so good. In terms of revenue streams, the 2016 oil contract signed by the then Coalition Government is the best thing that ever happened to Guyana. It cannot be equaled for the money that it delivers to Guyana’s treasury. On a sheer dollar to dollar basis, Sage Routledge is on the right track, one along which he barreled ahead smartly.
Leaving aside how poorly the 2016 contract measures up against that of other oil producing countries, the fact is that no gold contract, no bauxite contract, no timber contract, and no other contract-past or present-can match up to what this country gets as its share from Exxon for its oil. The bone of my contention is how come these many millions (in US dollars) have not translated to something for the people left to scramble to get by. I point to the people half of Guyana prefer not to speak of, despite their daily preaching about prosperity for all under a prejudiced PPP Government and leadership.
The first coming to mind are the thousands of public servants. They look on, they read about, others in the Guyanese family collecting what cushions in challenging times. Public servants are alert to robust Presidential and governmental promises made to ease the pain of those already given some level of relief. But of themselves, there is nothing but silence. It is a frightening silence that commentators who hold themselves out as honest, balanced, and caring prefer to leave untouched. They don’t have a word of objection (or support) to throw into the mix. As all this plays out, Guyana’s public servants are left to wonder if they are not considered to be people also. With human needs and obligations to fulfill, and with the pressures of daily living intensifying, and not a word from the PPP Government boasting about money in the Oil Fund and national development priorities.
The national budget is due, and regular citizens are watching to see how much of the funding will favor the private sector, meaning, the business community. It would be interesting to determine what and how much will be set aside for those hovering slightly above or at the poverty line. They need a helping hand in dire times, and this time when oil riches are flowing into Guyana’s hands. This will be a good temperature check on whether poor Guyanese are left in the cold (as before); or are given some much-needed warmth because there is a PPP Government and leadership that truly cares, and deeply.
As I examine oil developments, I can’t help thinking about a country that most Guyanese should know. It is Iraq. Oil gushed and oil money crushed. But only one segment of the Iraqi population tasted the oil benefits. The others were left to limp along and drag on their knees. It wasn’t good for Iraq, whose leader had helpful foreign patrons, until the gaskets blew. Today, Iraq is still hobbled by its hurts, and to some extent, blurred in clear visions that are necessary on how to spread the oil wealth.
Like Iraq, Guyana has oil wealth and oil money. Most unfortunately, Guyana also exists in the same boat. Some gaping leaks are noticeable, and the oil has only heightened that sense, of some getting, and others not.