With all most every passing day there is a story the mainstream media about the impending oil and gas bonanza that is likely to boost Guyana’s fortunes in the not too distant future.
According to Bob McNally, President of the Rapidian Energy Group; “Guyana is the most recent but rare incident of a brand new petroleum-state out of nothing.”
What is most unfortunate about the stories published in the local media is that they are fundamentally academic and highly technical. There are others that are so esoteric and highfalutin in language that they are making no sense whatsoever to ordinary citizens.
What the public wants it’s not getting. What’s in it for me? Will I benefit? If so,
in what way? Surely, they can’t be blamed for thinking in that way.
The stories about oil and gas that Guyanese are reading are sterile and dull, they soar above the heads of the man on the street. Some have no relevance to Guyana.
From all appearances, the on-going discourse on the subject has been hijacked by those who claim to be experts or wannabe experts in the sector.
Neither Exxon’s PR Department nor the Government of Guyana’s DPI consider it necessary to engage Guyanese on such matters. As the saying goes; ‘We are too big to bother ourselves with small potatoes.’
So much for the good corporate citizen and the caring government.
To fill the PR vacuum, some having identified another as their nemesis, are engaged in a race to the bottom with a view to outdoing each other.
The ‘Johnny-come-latelies in oil and gas are working overtime to prove to the ‘Born again’ neo-liberals how much they know, and how better they are acquainted with complexities of the oil and gas sector. It is as if they are talking to each other in a Tower of Babel and couldn’t care less whether they are making any sense to the small man, raising his level of awareness or knowledge about the sector.
A popular view on the street is that the so-called Guyanese experts in oil and gas should learn from Anil Nandlall’s skill in articulating complex issues pertaining constitutional and criminal law. Nandlall they claim, articulates his views in a manner that makes complex legal issues easily understood by John and Jane public.
If there was one political leader in Guyana in Guyanese history who was good at communicating his ideas in a way common people could understand, it was Cheddi Jagan. He had the ability to do so in plain and simple language just as his cabinet ministers did in the 1957 to 1964 PPP government.
Of course in those days, the natural way of communicating with the common man and woman was through visits to the sugar estates, the rice fields, the water front, the saw mills and all other places where workers and farmers could be found.
But leaders who were gifted in communicating their thoughts to the people like Jagan, Burnham and Rodney are long gone, and today’s communicators are hooked on Facebook, Whatsapp, YouTube, messenger, email, TV, radio or newspaper.
Unlike the more developed countries, tweeting and Instagram are not used much in Guyana.
That aside, what is noteworthy is that there remain thousands in Guyana who do not have an IPhone, a TV, a radio nor access to daily newspapers.
They are effectively out of the information communication loop save by word of mouth.
In the circumstances, it does not require rocket science to recognize the dearth of knowledge impacting the thousands who have been, and will continue to be left behind lacking the basic knowledge concerning the oil and gas industry.
Consequently, the major challenge is in the social and political arena, that being, how to capture, translate and bring to an acceptable level of understanding for the common man and woman, the pluses and minuses an oil economy in a Guyanese context.
This is not to say that Guyanese are not smart enough to read and assimilate, as best as they can, what is being fed to them on the subject. However, in view of the avalanche of distrust and negative information that obtains in the public domain, serious doubts exist about whether they stand to benefit in anyway whatsoever.
In some quarters, a strong view is emerging that; ‘White man coming back.’ And That ExxonMobil will be the Trojan horse that will replace ‘Bookers Guyana. Will history repeat itself? Will we return to the ‘bondage of far distant powers?’
One is left to wonder whether the current discourse is being kept at a level calculated to keep the populace in the dark with respect to the shady goings-on and perceived concubinage in the sector which thus far, appears to be the business of a few.
It is for this and other reasons that the great majority of Guyanese are skeptical, if not indifferent about the hullabaloo that they stand to benefit from the bonanza that would flow from the oil and gas economy.
In this connection, Amy Myers Jaffe, Director of Energy Security at the Council on Foreign Relations had this to say: “Guyana seems wholly unprepared for the avalanche of cash coming its way; it’s in political turmoil with no plan in place for how to marshal and distribute the money among a population of just 780,000 people.”
At this stage of the discussion, as far the citizenry is concerned, it’s not just about which party’s oil and gas policies will win but whether the poor and dispossessed will benefit from oil and gas the bonanza.
The CARICOM Charter for Civil Society to which Guyana is a signatory, calls on member states to ensure: ‘The effective functioning of the parliamentary system, morality in public affairs, respect for fundamental civil, political and economic, social and cultural rights … accountability and transparency in government.’
This is clearly not happening in Guyana. The current discourse on oil and gas needs to be situated in the context of the Caricom Charter if Guyanese are to have a full and appreciative understanding of how this new industry will impact their daily bread.
Benefits of oil and gas need to be stamped on an agenda for national debate at a People’s Fora.
The fora should not be a one-off event, nor should it be held at the exclusive Marriot or the Pegasus, but in towns, villages and communities across the country.
And the panel guiding the discussion should be multidimensional and not be composed of the usual suspects nor the shysters, who know little or nothing about the sector, but are lurking on the periphery hoping to cream-off lucrative contracts from government.
Above all, the ‘People’s Forum on Oil and Gas’ must not be elections driven, on the contrary, it must be people-centered and driven mainly by a deep and abiding interest aimed at alleviating the sufferings of the common man and woman of Guyana.
It is time! They deserve better!
Clement J. Rohee
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