Wednesday, January 19, 2022

A bird in the hand and a block offshore…

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By A. Bacchus

Lately, I’ve found myself continuously involved in conversations centered on the oil and gas industry, and what it really means for the people of Guyana. The topic has dominated my academic life, and at least twice weekly, the discourse takes centre stage in my Politics classes. During one of these recent classes, the question was asked, “What do you think we should do with the oil?” Of course, this led to a division—and rightfully so, everyone is entitled to their opinions.

The critics were firm, ‘everything that is being done, is being done in the wrong way and all operations must cease!’ Of course, not in those exact words, but that was the gist of it. Then, the Socratic method came into play. “We stop operations and do what with the oil? Do we just shut up shop and leave it there? Why should we? Why shouldn’t we?” There was silence. The condemnations were plenty, but solutions, there were none. That moment led to an internal monologue, and I found myself questioning my position on the matter.

As a Guyanese, I see the concerns being raised and I, too, am anxious about the country’s future and the ‘What-ifs?’ And it’s not just about me, I find myself pondering on what sort of future my child has, and how this industry will impact her life. But then I look around at my reality. I am a young Guyanese, living in what I consider an underdeveloped housing scheme, and I have a long list of complaints about the standard of living. Here I am hoping that this industry will bring about the much-needed transformation I—along with many more of my countrymen—so desperately need.

We are in the Christmas season, and while Bing Crosby’s baritone “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas,” floats across the room from my speakers, I will be singing, “I’m dreaming of a black Christmas, just like the ones I’m used to knowing.” I laugh at it now because I am currently writing this under a bright florescent tube, but in a few days, I won’t be laughing. Power outages have become an unwelcomed norm in our country, and at Christmas, the blackouts are at its peak. I joked recently that the Demerara-Berbice Interconnected System had more breakdowns than a student during finals week, but that is the stark reality of the conditions under which we live. Productive hours are lost, households face losses and extended period of blackout at a time where school and work are all virtual is generally inconvenient. Added to that, the cost of electricity in this country is among the highest in the region! Something has got to give, and perhaps, the answer is within our natural resources.

Plans are onstream for the development of the natural gas power generation system, which is expected to slash the cost of electricity by 60 percent. Revenues will also be within reach to hopefully revamp this problematic interconnected electricity grid. I am a pessimist, unfortunately, but the optimist in me is slowly waking up at the thought of affordable and reliable electricity within my lifetime. I currently live in a street that has more holes than a block of Swiss cheese. With the recent rainfalls, the ‘road’—and I use the word loosely—was inundated with water, and l had the sort of fall they turn into nursery rhymes. The main access road leading to the housing scheme is worse, with vehicle owners lamenting the state of it daily. I’m not even going to address the lack of streetlights and basic maintenance.

I’d be quick to fret and complain that the government needs to do better, but I also know that the solutions to these problems require money. The government has plans lined up for infrastructural development to improve the standard of living, but these very crucial projects require funding. If we opt not to utilise the oil and gas resources to address these issues, what are our alternatives?  Do we wait? And when other options of loans come along, how much longer do we have to wait? On what conditions? I can’t speak for anyone else, but I think that as a citizen, I deserve better. And we currently have a bird in the hand, which—as of October, had earned the country over US$534 million and counting.

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