A change in one’s fortunes will always bring many friends if that change is for the better. Guyana is suddenly attractive because of the discovery of oil and the fact that the oil could be coming to the surface in another two years.
Needless to say, the contract signed in 2016 has been roundly criticized by people who know what should have been done. It matters not that previous contracts were hidden from the public. The present administration had vowed transparency and had taken a decision to make all the contracts public.
The move to continue transparency continued with the release of the Memorandum of Understanding signed between Guyana and Trinidad. This unprecedented move has caused the leader of the political opposition to find many areas of criticism.
One criticism is that the Memorandum of Understanding has not paid enough attention to Guyanese. Indeed, the MoU affords Trinidad to seek investments in Guyana’s oil sector.
Indeed, Guyanese should have been in the forefront of the investment line. However, a lack of knowledge of oil and the fact that rich Guyanese prefer to sit on their wealth unless they are certain that they will get hefty returns has played a role in causing many to be on the sidelines.
ExxonMobil has been searching for accommodation for its workers. Dozens of Guyanese have such accommodation but according to reports they have priced themselves out of the market. Property that would normally have been rented for a certain fee is suddenly being rented for as much as thirty per cent more.
It is a case of trying to grab as much money as possible. The last word I heard is that ExxonMobil has signaled its intention to build its own accommodation.
Needless to say this is going to spark a hue and cry about a departure from local content.
Then there is the need for skills development. We need auditors for the oil industry and we have begun sending people overseas for training. At the same time the government has been able to recruit international experts to facilitate this process.
Before the announcement that foreign experts would have been there to assist with the audit there was a lot of noise about Guyana placing itself in a contest with a giant. Everyone contended that because of its paucity of knowledgeable auditors many times questionable accounts would be foisted on Guyana and the country would be in no position to do anything.
Now that there are to be experts auditing the account, there is the muttering that these international auditors would be collaborating with ExxonMobil to fleece Guyana. Such is the level of distrust of the oil giant.
The Trinidadians are seeking to help Guyana but nothing is for free. That country expects benefits. Having knowledge of the oil industry, many people from the twin-island republic already have come to Guyana and have clinched contracts with the oil giant. And this has been happening while the Guyanese sit by, nursing what money they have and expecting to be called.
Meanwhile, the issue with the contract signed in 2016 is still alive. The Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo, is criticizing it although it represents a small improvement on the contract signed in 1999. His argument is that when the first contract was signed there was no indication of oil. By 2016 it was known that oil was there.
Today, it is clear that there is oil in such quantities that Guyana should review that contract. Some say that the two per cent royalty is too low. That may be the case so the royalty should be adjusted upward.
A review is due soon and one can expect ExxonMobil to dig in its heels but given the public pressure I am certain that there will be a shift in its position.
And while this is going on there should be a major shift in the curriculum of the schools. Jagdeo himself recognized that Guyana lost its skills capacity when he was preparing to lay the sewerage lines to accommodate the Marriott Hotel. He hired a foreign company even as Courtney Benn Contracting Services had already begun to mobilise for the project.
Obviously there should be a greater concentration on the sciences but we simply do not have the science teachers. We do not even have teachers for Mathematics. So it is that the foreigners are coming in the same way that a beggar who wins the lotto would suddenly find that he has relatives he never knew.
Barbados is coming too. Both Trinidad and Barbados did open their doors to Guyanese. In later years they began to treat Guyanese shabbily. The shabby treatment disappeared when ExxonMobil announced its oil find.
I also notice the rush by countries to make loans to Guyana, not least among them the Chinese who seem to be awash in money. Guyana has been made aware of the pitfalls of some Chinese loans to greedy and corrupt leaders.
A friend recently said to me that had Jagdeo still been the leader of the country Guyana would have suffered the fate of Zambia, Malaysia and Sri Lanka. Indeed his government did reach out for large loans from the Chinese, some of them representing the largest investment in the history of Guyana.
The current expansion of the East Coast Demerara road project is being funded by the Chinese.
This past week Guyana has secured loans from the Islamic Development Bank and this week there was another loan approach from the Chinese.
When pointed to, the Belt and Road Initiative that is driven by the Chinese loans, President David Granger said that he would enter into any loan agreement with the Chinese with his eyes wide open. He is saying that Guyana would not make the same mistake as those countries that have been taken over by the Chinese.
Perhaps the prospect of oil wealth would save the country that needs infrastructure if it is to take its place among the developed countries in the world.
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