Guyana has been a poor country for a long time, although to look at and to talk to the people, you would believe that Guyanese are like everyone else. Indeed, we find money to enjoy ourselves and we dress to emulate those who live in the affluent countries.
There are those of us who feel that life should be better if only we could get better pay. We seek to work with companies that pay better than others because we value our labour.
However, we still have the problem of people refusing to take certain jobs regardless of their qualification. It goes without saying that many are not qualified for the jobs they want, but to them that is not important.
So it is that when the announcement came that Guyana had oil and that it would be coming to the surface in a while, all eyes were turned to the employment opportunities. People began to seek to develop skills that would have lain dormant had the oil company not announced its discovery.
And the oil company did build up hopes. It announced that it had provided employment, either directly or indirectly, to hundreds of Guyanese. It caused some graduates of the Carnegie School of Home Economics to land jobs as caterers.
There were Guyanese from the Government Technical Institute who secured jobs on the oil rig and on the onshore facilities. New companies emerged and there were jobs for secretaries and office assistants, but there was the view that enough was not done.
Yet we do not have the numbers; we do not know if the numbers are worth talking about.
The result is that there was pressure for information on the extent of jobs that the oil company had caused to be created. The result was a list of every area of expenditure linked to the oil company. We saw the oil company declaring the money it spent or caused to be spent at Bourda Market and with individuals, some of whom were not aware that they were recipients of the oil company’s largesse.
What was interesting was the reaction of the government spokesperson. He pounded on the fact that Kaieteur News was a beneficiary by virtue of the advertisements that the company may have placed in the newspaper. At that stage I wondered whether the newspaper would have been listed as a beneficiary if a freelance writer had submitted an article for publication.
Reporters began to ask about local content and found out that Guyana at this point does not have a definition for local content, but that it is working on one that would be fashioned by the wider society.
Indeed, local content is important. If one is going to exploit oil, then the least one can do is to use local services. We do not expect that the oil company would seek to use those services that we cannot provide at the expected level.
For example, we do not have the helicopters that can shuttle between shore and the rig; we do not have the level of engineers to undertake work in the area of oil exploration but we do have brokers and technicians that can effect the necessary maintenance services.
There are local businesses that are investing in certain onshore facilities. Whether this is being done in consultation with the oil company is not known, at least by me. These local companies will create jobs for many, but the potential employees have work to do.
The University of Guyana is required to train people for oil.
I looked at Trinidad and saw the people living it up because there was oil money. Many did not think about capitalizing on the money by enhancing those things that existed before. The result is that the country’s agriculture declined, as did other areas. There was pressure on the government to keep the people happy, and it did until the bottom fell out recently.
Guyana has a booming agriculture sector, so the farmers are well placed to capitalize on the oil money. For sure we do not expect the oil company to import food. That would be a travesty and an insult to Guyana. We do not expect to see an influx of canned foods.
Accommodation is available. All of a sudden some of the leading hotels are reporting an increase in business. Attention is on the local aircraft companies. They will be needed, but earlier we noticed ExxonMobil has moved to lease space at the Ogle Airport. The belief is that the oil company may wish to bring in its own aircraft, and that will not do well for Guyana.
Local content demands that the foreign investor use what is available locally once the cost is not above what it would normally be.
It goes without saying that additional money is flowing into the country. I see more and more developments at the personal level. One gauge is the night life. Night clubs are doing good business, yet I want to see more people using this threat of an economic boom to further their skills development.
There is something that is bothering me, though. We have young people who seem unable to be wedded to a job. At the first sign of discomfort they walk away. That was not how it was; people got a job and did everything to keep it.
I shudder to think that the same thing will happen at a time when we will need every available skill.
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