AS Guyana prepares for the coming of oil, there is understandably a lot of debate over the pros and cons of such a development. Many have pointed to our relative lack of the requisite skills needed in that regard, while others have expressed concern over our ability to ensure that Guyana gets its fair share of the returns. There has also been some back and forth over the government’s decision not to make public the details of the contract signed with Exon Mobil. The government has assured the nation that despite some challenges, it has the situation under control.
What is however clear is that once Exxon begins to pump the oil, the Guyanese economy and society would be seriously altered. The experiences of other developing societies in this regard are of course worth studying and should be noted. But in the end, Guyana should chart its own course; we must look at our situation and determine what is ultimately best for us. Mistakes would inevitably be made and some in our country would be disappointed, for it is impossible to overcome in short order all the challenges we face.
But one of those challenges that is most critical is in the area of governance. This is an area of our national life that has caused much anxiety since decolonisation. At the heart of the problem has been our inability to craft a national consensus around a national vision. Put another way, we have been unable to overcome the political fracture caused by our ethnic diversity. Time and time again, this has been our undoing in the face of local and global economic challenges. In fact, many scholars and commentators have concluded that therein lies the root of our persistent socio-economic underdevelopment.
As we prepare to face the might of Exon Mobil and the complexities of an oil economy, we can ill-afford to be saddled by our current political divisions. There is absolutely no way in which that condition would benefit our country. So, it is imperative that our political leadership get their act together. The buck stops there.
It is most disheartening to open the newspapers every day or view the electronic media and witness the lack of charity and civility among some of our leaders.
The Government cannot govern in isolation from the concerns of the Opposition, although the latter treats every government action as an occasion for the dissemination of doom. Only last week, President David Granger commented how difficult it is to get the cooperation of the Opposition at every level of Government. He noted that the resistance by the Opposition does not exist only at the level of central Government, but also regionally. “I have been to some meetings and the regional chairman won’t come to meet me, the Ministry of Communities has had seminars and the persons who have been elected on the PPP ticket don’t show up; municipal and regional levels.”
We have been doing this for decades with the same result, yet some of our leaders seem oblivious to this fact. Yes, arriving at consensus in a historically polarised society is not by any means an easy undertaking, but it is not impossible if leaders muster the political courage and maturity. This is what is seriously lacking among our leaders.
How many times have we not in these columns stressed the need for greater social cohesion ? Such aspiration is not novel—we have been talking about it since 1961.
Yet, that is where it stops. The coming oil economy necessitates such. Constitutional reform is most critical in this regard. The constitutional reform process has begun in the National Assembly. Both sides of the political divide must muster the strength to deal with this question in a mature manner. If we miss the boat again, the consequences would be brutal.