Jul 29, 2020 Editorial Comments Off on The Last Plantation
It is not without irony that the logo of Troy Resources, one of the major companies exploiting our gold is, well, the Trojan Horse. Stripped of its heroic dimensions, the story of the conquering of Troy is about an invading army using a ruse to enter a city-state, with the assistance of the leadership of that city state, leading to its eventual devastation by external, colonizing forces.
The basic situation of exploitation by Troy and another foreign-owned gold mining giant was covered in an article published in Kaieteur News two years ago, in May of 2018, titled “Guyana loses billions $$$ worth in concessions to Troy Resources, Aurora Gold Mine annually”. The following excerpt from that article is instructive:
“Significantly, while billions of dollars worth in concessions are given to these foreign entities, little is known about how many indigenous companies are used to provide them with goods and services in contrast to the foreign conglomerates contracted to provide same…. Commissioner General of the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC), Newell Dennison, said that there is an imbalance between the concessions granted to foreign companies and those granted to locals. Dennison was asked if there has been any monitoring of local content in the mining sector by the Commission, he responded in the negative.”
The situation with any of these companies, taken in isolation, would be bad enough. However, as this newspaper has taken the lead in reporting, this basic formula is one that is replicated and expanded across companies and industries, most recently in our newly launched oil and gas sector. Switch out ‘Troy Resources’ and replace it with ‘Exxon’ and the situation is virtually identical, except of course on a much grander scale: a large, foreign-owned multinational company is granted massive concessions to exploit a valuable national resource with minimal economic benefit going to Guyanese and little monitoring of the already negligible commitments to local content.
In this country, in which little effort has been placed on accurate, consensus-based, objective historiography, much of this might seem like a relatively new phenomenon. It isn’t. Exxon, Troy, Aurora, Hess, Bosai, Bai Shan Lin, Barama, Omai, Rusal – all have their predecessors in Guyanese history, most long forgotten, but some like Bookers (sugar) and Reynolds (bauxite) remain faint, if fading, in memory.
Preceding all this was the company that laid the foundation of our economy and society, the infamous Dutch-West India Company. It was that primordial international corporation that would define both the fundamental physical and sociological contours of the society we live in, from the geometrical layout of our villages to the socio-economic hierarchies that prevail to this day.
It was the Trinidadian intellectual giant, Lloyd Best, in part by studying this society in the pre-independence era, who identified, named and explored the pathology for what it was – the plantation system. As he once observed: “The legacy of institutions, structures and behaviour patterns of the plantation system are so deeply entrenched that adjustment tends to take place as an adaptation within the bounds of the established framework.”
Because of the gaps in our history, few people know that Best was an economic advisor to the Cheddi Jagan administration in the 1950s, and that his New World Group had its genesis right here in what was still then British Guiana. The obdurate nature of the plantation economy is what we continue to be burdened with to this day. As Best’s illustrious contemporary, St. Lucian poet, Derek Walcott, in his own seminal plantation poem, ‘Ruins of a Great House’, would observe, “The rot remains with us, the men are gone.”
The economic contours of the oil economy are virtually the same as the plantation economy, if not – in both absolute and relative terms – worse. Norman Girvan, the late, great Jamaican economist, in his study of the bauxite industry fifty years ago, outlined those contours: foreign ownership; basic or primary stage of production; limited domestic inputs, or local content; the repatriation of profits, meaning most of the money leaving; and “the persistence of the incalculability of value flows with transfer pricing”, meaning we remain unable to ascertain the exact economic benefit coming out of the exploitation of our resources due to the deliberate complexity of the financial operations of these companies. To this day, no one has been able to provide an accurate representation of the projected sum benefits of our Production-Sharing Agreement with ExxonMobil even in the short term.
The stark reality of life in Guyana today shows that our society, in terms of its fundamental economic framework, is a plantation society redux, although even ‘redux’ implies that the soul of the plantation has never really left us in the first place to have to return. Fifty-four years after independence, the “commanding heights of our economy” (a phrase dear to Forbes Burnham) still remains under the command and control of external forces with the full complicity of our political ‘leadership’: the colonial overseers in their plantation great houses have simply been replaced by homegrown government ministers in their mansions, selling out our patrimony for a few pittance.
While the world continues to progress around us, we remain transfixed in the plantation mindset and therefore mode of action. Caught somewhere between the red of complete stoppage and the progressive green of go, caught between the partisan political tension of red and green, we are stuck, with our economic engine humming, at amber, our prehistoric pathologies preserved in amber. Unless we break this mould, unless we emerge and evolve and take hold of our destiny for all our people, we will remain what we are in this world – the Last Plantation.
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