The fastest development in the history of the oil sector anywhere will take place in Guyana. From the accidental discovery of Guyana’s oil resource to first oil has taken a mere five years.
Generally, it would take years. But Guyana’s oil is not like some others. It is ‘sweet’ and would therefore not need much refining. It is also light making it among the priciest on the world market. That is why so many companies are rushing here.
Last week I spoke of how Exxon came to find oil. By a whisker that exploration company found oil and avoided leaving Guyana with knowledge that it had oil. A simple decision to drill a second well instead of the first gave Guyana the leg to move from a Third World country.
I recently listened to a lecturer who grew up poor in Singapore at a time when Guyana and Singapore were at the same stage of development. He said that Singapore was a case of putting the best people in the best positions.
Crucial to this was one word. Honesty. The lecturer did say that a lack of honesty is the downfall of most countries. Guyana was no different. There were politicians who looked out for their friends and family to the detriment of the country.
I saw ordinary people become filthy rich on the backs of the Guyanese people. They helped themselves to money that would have gone to boost national development. Watching some of them caused me to ask myself a simple question. How much money does a man need to live comfortably?
Some people collected enough money to make four beds to sleep on. They used some of their money to go on jaunts with friends and for whom they paid all expenses.
Fresh in the minds of people are the accusations of corruption levelled against the Jagdeo Government. Jagdeo himself by his opulence did nothing to dispel the accusations. People saw his house and the acquisition of other property that his salary in his wildest dreams could not have provided.
Then came the Granger administration. Again people began to hurl accusations of corruption but there was no evidence. On one occasion the political opposition contended that President David Granger had built a mansion on East Bank Demerara soon after becoming president.
It turned out that the Head of State merely inherited his brother’s property. Of course, the accusation of Granger’s wealth immediately disappeared but some of his Ministers became targets, not that anyone produced any evidence to support their claims.
I expected these claims to be ramped up with news that first oil is mere weeks away. Instead, I heard former President Bharrat Jagdeo say that no oil money should be spent until after the elections.
Finance Minister Winston Jordan described these elections as the mother of all elections. He knew what he was saying. For starters people are looking at oil money, perhaps to accumulate more personal wealth. But oil money should go toward making Guyana so much better.
People have been talking about getting windfalls. Some decided to grasp at the suggestion that every poor household should get US$5,000 a year by just being poor. The saner among us simply said that if such a thing were to happen then many people would stop working and merely sit to wait for the handout.
Trinidad is a great lesson. That country enjoyed oil for more than one hundred years. I remember Trinidadians leaving to shop in Miami, partying at the drop of a hat and foregoing everything else to live on oil money.
The result is that agriculture collapsed and there was nothing when the oil dried up. Crime has become rampant because people saw the gun as a means to make money by being hired guns or bandits. The murder rate in Trinidad is so high that it befuddles the imagination. At last count there were nearly four hundred murders for this year alone.
On Friday, President Granger made it known that oil money would go toward boosting agriculture. In his own words, people cannot eat oil. And in any case, the oil sector does not employ many people. The employment would come from the spin-offs. And there are many spin-offs.
One of them is the development of Liquid Natural Gas, something that is in humongous quantities. Exxon did announce that it is finding huge pockets of gas which it does not need. It has offered to pipe that gas to shore.
Immediately I can see the huge benefit to the country. Manufacturing that is very costly because of the dependence on fossil fuel would become radically cheap. At present the country wastes a lot of agricultural products. A cannery operating cheaply on gas would be the way to go.
The power plants would be running on gas, saving money at the production and consumption levels. I dream for the day when electricity would be cheap.
It would cost one million American dollars to lay the pipeline from the drill ships to shore—that would work out to US$100 million. President Granger said that there is a lot of thought going into where the gas would land.
The concern is the eroding coastland. In recent months the Atlantic Ocean really made its presence felt. Undoubtedly the tides have risen with global warming. People are feeling the brunt. The feeble efforts to keep out the tide appear to be a losing effort.
Granger said that he does not want to land the gas at a location only to find that the Atlantic would be claiming that piece of land and consuming the gas effort.
Yet gas is the way to go. Trinidad has suddenly found out that in the absence of oil it can make money from gas. It is developing that industry.
Guyana has begun to move even before the oil comes. The roads, the new educational institutions, the increased social services and so much more attest to the forward movement of the country.
I expect to see a rapid change in the education system, courtesy of the money from oil. Instead of producing so many illiterates, the schools should be producing top class students who would do what their counterparts did in Singapore—take over the country and run it with honesty and with pragmatism.
It matters not that a cat is black or white. Once it catches mice then it is doing the job. It should be the same with employment practices.
The future beckons.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.)
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