I had the opportunity of listening to a very insightful and forward- looking lecture by former Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago Ms. Kamla Persad-Bissessar. The event was hosted by the Guyana Manufacturing and Services Association (GMSA) at the Pegasus Hotel.
The lecture was most instructive and pointed to some serious mistakes that could be made if we put all our eggs, as it were, in the petroleum basket. She drew reference to the Trinidad and Tobago experience where the traditional sectors were de-emphasized in favour of the oil and gas sector. This resulted in skewed and distorted economic development.
It also led to the underdevelopment of the agricultural sector and a consequential high dependence on imported food. The situation has now reached crisis proportions with the closure of Petrotrin.
Guyana has a good opportunity to learn from the Trinidad and Tobago experience and avoid the pitfalls of overdependence on oil. The projected revenues from oil are enormous given our relatively small population and unless the sector is properly and wisely managed, we could end up like some of the oil rich countries where there are high levels of poverty despite being blessed with plenty of oil. Our neighbor to the west, Venezuela, is a good example.
The former Prime Minister urged Guyanese to come up with a policy framework on oil and gas which should draw on the inputs and experiences of all stakeholders including the political opposition. The challenges facing the sector are enormous such as price volatility and output shocks, hence the importance to plan ‘seven generations ahead’ in the words of Ms. Bissessar.
For reasons best known to policymakers, there was a noticeable absence of senior government officials at the event. I respectfully suggest that a copy of the presentation be solicited and careful consideration given to the recommendations contained therein.
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