As Guyanese continue to ask questions about how best they can ensure revenues collected from oil production is not misused, a visiting UK professor reminded over a hundred persons gathered at a forum last week, that they “have the right to vote” and therefore the power is in their hands.
Professor Jorge Manuel Guira of the University of Reading delivered a lecture on meeting the challenges of oil and gas exploration and production on Thursday at the Theatre Guild, in Guyana’s capital, Georgetown. Oil production is set to begin in the country by 2020.
A member of the audience stated during the question and answer segment that while Guyana has experienced economic growth over the last decade, this has not translated to the well-being of its people. “We still have very high levels of child mortality, high levels of suicide, very high levels of functional illiteracy and high levels of migration. When you look on the government indicator side, this is not encouraging when it comes to rule of law, transparency, corruption and ease of doing business.”
The participant, who identified himself as Kevin Burnett, then asked, “With the influx of expected oil revenue, how can Guyana ensure that the oil revenue translates to well-being for Guyanese?”
Professor Guira, after a moment of reflection, responded saying, “You have the right to vote, right…is that correct?”
The Professor stressed that the most important thing citizens can do is to remain engaged in the process and hold governments accountable.
“The easy and simple answer is that you exercise your right to vote. The easy and simple answer is that you come to meetings like this. There is no question that the oil and gas resources which may come in may be used for a variety of different purposes,” he said.
If Guyanese believe the revenues should be used for the enhancement of medical and social services, education, or other areas where a need exists, then that is something citizens should ask for, he pointed out. Transparency, accountability and a system of rigorous checks and balances must be present in the framework that is being developed for the industry. “None of those processes are perfect and there are always certain things, which because of the nature of contracts with oil and gas…you will not be able to know the details of…but you can demand results from the government…that is your right as a citizen.”
There have been calls from sections of the Guyanese society for more transparency on the part of government, particularly as it relates to certain aspects of the Profit-Sharing Agreement between Guyana and ExxonMobil, the lead operator offshore the South American country.
For its part, government has maintained that nothing sinister is contained in the contract between Guyana and ExxonMobil, entered into under the previous administration. Guyana’s Minister of Natural Resources, Raphael Trotman, speaking to members of the business community on April 26 in Georgetown, said government believes that as much information as is possible should be made public about the contract. How the information is released, and to what extent, is being looked at along with ExxonMobil, he said.