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It took me more than sixty years to understand something my mother often said to me when I was a boy. She would often refer to me as confusion guilder boots. I knew what confusion was; I knew what a guilder was—many of you today don’t know what a guilder is or was—and boots, I knew the guilder was a unit of currency when Guyana used the British currency—there were farthing, pence or penny, shilling, guilder, pound, crown and sovereign. That was so long ago. I am not going to go into the conversion rate.
Anyhow, the issue was confusion guilder boots. That was a person who caused confusion wherever he or she went. I got a hint when President Irfaan Ali signed a memorandum of understanding with the Dominican Republic for an oil refinery. Soon after, Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo announced that there would be no oil refinery in the Dominican Republic, at least not under the terms that Irfaan Ali signed.
Confusion. Whom should the nation listen to? Jagdeo was confusion guilder boots in this case. The nation was confused about the oil refinery. There was no confusion about who was the boss.
In 2018 the David Granger administration signed a contract with IHS Markit for the auditing of the ExxonMobil accounts in Guyana from 1999 to 2017. That audit was completed in 2020. Something caused a delay in its release. Some said COVID. Whatever it was, the audit report might never have seen the light of day had someone not leaked it to Stabroek News last April.
The audit said that Exxon had inflated its expenses by US$214 million. The confusion started. The Guyana Revenue Authority stated that the audit had to be examined. A month later, the GRA said that it concurred with the findings of the international auditing body.
Suddenly, confusion guilder boots emerged. The Ministry of Natural Resources announced that the Guyana Revenue Authority was not authorised to audit the Exxon account. That Ministry then began its own audit. Lo and behold. It found that the extent of the inflation was US$3 million. The nation was stunned.
Specialists in and out of the oil sector created a ruckus. There was much more. The noise about the drastic reduction placed the government in a quandary. Meanwhile, in all this, President Irfaan Ali remained silent. The situation was obviously out of his league. Bharrat Jagdeo was in charge. He promoted the US$3 million. Then he somersaulted. Simone Biles had nothing on him. Had he gone to the Olympics he would have won the gold medal.
He said that the inflation was indeed US$214 million but he had to explain his position. Up steps Minister Vickram Bharrat. He headed the Ministry of Natural Resources. It was his Ministry that faulted the GRA and conducted its own audit. With Jagdeo’s somersault Vickram Bharrat was thrown under the bus. But he was smart enough to pass the buck. He said that some unauthorised group within his Ministry conducted the audit without any right to do so.
Now the questions arose. Who in a government department would undertake some action without the express authority of the government? How could Minister Vickram Bharrat not know that the audit was being conducted by his Ministry?
How could the Cabinet not know about the audit? How did Jagdeo not know, him being responsible for the oil sector and all things oil? Whatever the case, there was not a word of disciplinary action. No one was to blame for this irresponsible act that has not only embarrassed Jagdeo, but the entire government. Perhaps they are beyond embarrassment.
And President Irfaan Ali remains silent. I remember him saying at one time that the matter would have to go to arbitration. Arbitration would cause Guyana to pay the lawyers representing Exxon. And these fellows would be the best and would charge tons of money by the hour. Then Guyana would have to pay its own lawyers. Besides, the matter would drag on for so long that people like me would be dead before any resolution of the matter.
One must now ask, what is going on in the oil sector? Perhaps it is this same confusion that is preventing the people of Guyana from getting any of the oil money that has been flowing into this country for the past three years. Had it not been for the release of that audit Guyanese would have been none the wiser. Another audit has been conducted and people are awaiting the findings. Heaven knows what would surface this time around.
On a more serious note, one must wonder at what is happening at the government level. The Education Minister criticises performance of a school that has a shortage of eighteen teachers and precious little furniture. Teachers would sometimes buy teaching aids for a few dollars. The government is giving them a few thousand dollars each month to continue this practice. And this so far is only in Region Five and Region Six.
Nurses are leaving in droves. More than one hundred have left during the first half of this year. But the government is making no effort to retain the few that are left. Doctors are leaving too, although their lot is slightly better. Many have gone to work in the oil sector while others straddle the various private hospitals collecting a tidy salary at the end of the month.
The public servants are also heading to the private sector. The drain from the government is continuing. Despite producing the largest budget ever, the government has been adding billions of dollars more to the Treasury by drawing down from the Natural Resources Fund. But with all this money none is trickling down to the ordinary worker. Just the other day medical personnel found that more than 50 per cent of children about to enter school are severely malnourished. They would be because their parents could barely feed them. And this would have long term effect on their learning ability.