Over the past months, there has been a plethora of exhaustive, written and outspoken commentaries in the media on two issues; ExxonMobil and China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
I call them the ‘twin juggernauts’: one a country, the other a multinational corporation.
China’s market socialist economy is the second largest by nominal GDP in the world. Its Purchasing Power Parity (PPP), with a GDP of 11.2 trillion is second to the USA.
ExxonMobil is worth US$486.429 billion. It is the world’s largest oil company and its business revenue is bigger than India’s state revenues.
It is listed as the world’s largest and most powerful public company.
To date, almost all the perceived negatives that should be known about these two juggernauts have been revealed as a result of creepy surveillance by a section of the local media.
Believe you me, if there are more goose pimpling or eye bulging tales from the crypt and skeletons in the cupboards of these two juggernauts they will, in time, find their way in the pages of the print media.
Unfortunately, the Guyanese public continues to be the recipients of one side of the story concerning these two juggernauts.
A particular section of the media has distinguished itself by being the sole pall- bearer of the frightening news from Lombard Street.
Popular misconceptions are the flavour of the day. The problem is, the real story is not being discussed.
Three fundamental myths are being peddled as regards China’s Belt and Road Initiative: infrastructure financing is the only game in town; Beijing orchestrates all Belt and Road investment activities and governments are being swindled by Beijing.
No concrete evidence has been advanced to substantiate these myths, yet they persist.
The Chinese Embassy is mum and so is ExxonMobil. This is proving unhelpful.
Observers have opined that a section of the media is exerting public pressure on the two juggernauts with a view to, on the one hand, scaring off the Chinese juggernaut with its Belt and Road initiative, and on the other, to force the ExxonMobil juggernaut to modify its behaviour/ambitions with respect to its strategic interests in Guyana. The question is, ‘Will they succeed?’
Why is it that the publishers of the bad news do not want Guyanese to feel good or at least better with sense of optimism in the future?
If the answer has to do with governance under the current administration then their agenda is clear.
At the same time, this begs the question: ‘Were the PPP/C in government, would the position of the Lombardian prophets of gloom and doom towards the two juggernauts be the same?’
Furthermore, are the stories being fed to us about the two juggernauts good news or bad news? The answer to that question is critical.
The publishers of the bad news about the two juggernauts are obviously convinced that they are bringing good news to their readers, however, depending on whose side the readers are on, they could very well conclude, that what the publisher considers to be their ‘good news’ is to the reader, bad news.
Unfortunately, for the Granger Administration, their sale of the good news vis-a-vis the contributions, real or imagined of the two juggernauts are not gaining traction.
Their ‘bleatings’ are simply not penetrating the barrage of bad news emanating from Lombard Street, Why?
Because, people generally do not trust governments nor multinationals, in the same way that they do not trust multilateral behemoths such as the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the G 7 Group of Countries.
Small wonder why there are always mass protests against these behemoths irrespective of the capital city where they may be meeting.
People just do not appreciate decisions being made over and above their heads without their involvement one way or another. As far as they are concerned, ways and means must be found to involve all that are likely to be affected in view of decisions that are likely to be arrived at.
All the talk about “eyes wide open” and “having nothing to fear” will fall on deaf ears if stakeholders are not involved in the decision making process.
Note the resoluteness of our teachers in the face of government’s shilly-shallying over the demands by teachers.
And more recently, the call made by the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Services to the Granger Administration for the latter to be provided with a copy of the MOU to be signed between the Government of Guyana and the Government of Trinidad and Tobago.
Who is to believe a government with such a poor transparency track record when they say that there is “nothing sinister” nor “no need to panic” about the MOU with T&T?
In both instances, there is clearly a lack of trust.
China and ExxonMobil are financial and economic juggernauts, taken together or separately, they are ‘too big to fail’ or to be bothered by ‘small fry,’ be they on Lombard Street or secreted in and around other crevices in Georgetown.
The above notwithstanding, both juggernauts seem to have underestimated the vibrancy, alertness and investigative prowess of the local media;
Traditionally, juggernauts do not feel obligated to explain nor to respond to critics or analysts of any political/ideological hue or shade. Juggernauts have a tendency to legitimize and justify their policy initiatives irrespective of ethical concerns, civic responsibility or market accountability.
The rich investors and heavy hitters do not recognize nor respond to social concerns emanating from the host country;
Juggernauts tend to adopt an aloof attitude towards the host country’s political culture and do not see the need to interact with stakeholders except government officials.
They fail to ignite public passion nor get the public fascinated about their investment and initiatives.
The juggernauts depend principally on government to defend their interests but the APNU+AFC Government from all indications, do not seem favourably disposed to facilitate.
As far as they are concerned, that is a matter for the juggernauts to deal with.
But the juggernauts have failed miserably and as a result, the space has since been taken up by sections of the media and other interested parties.
Guyanese need to take a closer look at the players behind the juggernauts and to be knowledgeable of their vision and future roles in the country.
Not only must we have a sense of what they are up to but it is vitally necessary that we be prepared technically and intelligently to respond.
Whether it is the Chinese or ExxonMobil juggernaut, we must be aware of their interests and refine our negotiating tactics to better advance our country’s economic interests.
We should recognize that commercial diplomacy is at work internationally and Guyana must not miss a single
opportunity, large or small that would advance our country’s strategic and competitive advantage.
Now is the time for us to collectively assess our role as a future oil and gas-producing nation and to consider seriously our intellectual capacity to take on board projects under China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
These matters are too critical to be left solely to those who currently strut the corridors of power and the few shysters and barnacles on the periphery.
We cannot fit the age-old, colonial-type development model into a new developmental paradigm that beckons.
Back in July 1995, at a meeting of Conference of Heads of Government of CARICOM held in Georgetown, Dr. Jagan had warned:
“We need an agenda for development. Past models have proven to be ineffective. We must elaborate a new strategy not only for political stability and peace but for economic and human development.”
Call it rhetoric or hackneyed, the case for a new model for economic development for Guyana remains relevant to this day.
In a world characterized by digital power and influence, what we need to be vigilant about and strive to prevent at all costs is state-corporate control of our digital eco-system.
Opening new frontiers for development by way of oil and gas or the Belt and Road Initiative will bring challenges, but our failure will be not to confront those challenges and transform them into opportunities.
When the famous Brooklyn Bridge was completed in 1883, some cynics noted that despite the money and labour expended, all the cities of New York and Brooklyn gained were ‘stone towers with tangled wires.’ And before it’s completion, one skeptical newspaper had described the project as ‘a colossal folly.’
When ECLAC reported in 2017 that foreign direct investments in Guyana had jumped from US$58m in 2016 to US$212m in 2017, no one called that bad news. While it provided good sound bytes for the Granger administration, in reality it was solely the ExxonMobil juggernaut’s investment that pushed the numbers upwards.
With Guyana on the cusp of transformative developments, competition for foreign direct investments in a hostile global environment continues to be a major bugbear for countries such as ours.
And while investments should certainly be welcomed, soft loans and grant aid through the Belt and Road Initiative should not be frowned upon nor rejected.
In this regard, it is apposite to note that the United States Congress Foreign Assistance Research in its Report FY 2012-2017, revealed that US foreign assistance to Guyana moved from US$10,864 in 2012 to a mere US$250 in 2017 a decrease by 96 percent.
Meanwhile, only US$57.7m has been allocated to all 15 member states of CARICOM for projects related to the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI).
Incidentally, there is speculation in some quarters that during the recent visit by a team of US Congressmen to Guyana, discussions were held with government on this matter.
With the two juggernauts present in Guyana, it is incumbent upon all stakeholders including the government, to ensure that national, broad-based conversations on the role and place of potential projects under China’s Belt and Road Initiative as well as the future oil and gas industry take place among Guyanese within the meaning of a new development paradigm.
Clement J. Rohee
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