Critical analysis of Guyana’s development path emerges in academic debate

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In an engaging Oxford-style debate, two prominent voices in Guyana; Elson Lowe and Joel Bhagwandin, engaged in a thought-provoking discussion on the premise – “Guyana is not on the right development path, given its newfound oil resources.”

The event, organised by students of the University of Guyana, was held on Wednesday at the Turkeyen campus, on the outskirts of Georgetown.

They critically analysed the country’s development trajectory and its potential implications. The debate shed light on the risks, benefits, and work needed, to harness Guyana’s oil resources for sustainable development.

Lowe, who is the Economic and Youth Policy Advisor to Guyana’s Opposition Leader, argued in favor of the proposition. He was critical of the Guyana government’s management of the oil sector, including the time taken to audit Stabroek Block expenses and secure layers of coverage for the country (to be activated in the event of a spill). He also spoke to general indicators of human development, such as the performance of Guyanese students in annual exams, and condemned the government for not already making education at the University free of charge.

Economist, Elson Lowe

Guyana plans to use oil revenues to make higher education free | OilNOW

Bhagwandin discussed the progress Guyana has made over decades, improving its political stability and debt levels. He argued that it is important to assess Guyana’s development trajectory with a firm understanding of the historical context. Further, the financial analyst made the case that initiatives are being pursued that will continue to improve the state of the country, such as the Gas-to-Energy project. Bhagwandin cautioned that development does not happen overnight and that many progressive reforms will take time. 

All you need to know about Guyana’s Gas-to-Energy project (Updated) | OilNOW

After the debate, Lowe told OilNOW that, “it provided a good opportunity for us to identify some of the risks the country faces, some of the areas of urgent improvement that are required, and for us to at least in some part, agree that we should engage upon a process of providing better governance so that we can first of all develop the country, but also just as critically, ensure that we don’t leave huge numbers of Guyanese in poverty for no reason.”

Financial Analyst, Joel Bhagwandin

Asked to comment on Bhagwandin’s discussion, Lowe said that there is a difference between development on the right path and development by virtue of incompetence, a point he also made during his discussion. “You can’t just throw money at the problem when throwing money at the problem means that people who could be helped are not being helped, and so while he has certainly made some remarks about development, those to me do not represent any satisfactory view of development,” Lowe said.

Bhagwandin commended the debate for bringing professionals together from diverse backgrounds and fostering discussions that are often lacking in Guyanese society. He acknowledged the importance of providing platforms for university students and young professionals to engage in such debates and gain exposure to differing opinions. Bhagwandin emphasized, “We need more of it. So, I think given the public anticipation for this… there is a great opportunity to be conscious that we have more of this type of discussion.”

However, Bhagwandin found Lowe’s arguments against Guyana’s development path lacking substance, giving much focus to what he referred to as inconsequential administrative matters. He stressed the need to address the bigger picture, particularly what Lowe’s alternative development plan would be. Criticising his opponent’s response to a question from the audience, Bhagwandin said, “99% of his answers were fluff and rambling. There was no decisive answer [on an alternative]. That is what the debate should have focused on.”

Shaquawn Gill, President of the University of Guyana Student Society, said it was important to give students an opportunity to hear competing perspectives in a shared place, noting that the debate between the two men was in the pipeline for a while. Gill said, “A lot of times, a lot of our young people are influenced a lot by what their parents think, what their friends think, but a lot of times, you don’t get the opportunity to sit and listen to both sides.”

Shaquawn Gill, University of Guyana Student Society President 

Gill said he is encouraged, based on post-debate feedback, and that the Student Society will continue to promote engagements of this nature. 

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