On Monday 20th January 2020, we watched as Guyana made history when it exported its first ever shipment of oil. Exxon Mobil exported one million barrels of light crude oil to the United States. Guyana’s economy will grow by 87% in 2020 as a result of returns just from oil companies bidding for blocks. That does not include revenues from the actual sale of oil.
Here at home, our government remains mute on the state of our oil and gas resources. There has been deafening silence after the dramatic announcement on the eve of the 2018 election that “we have found oil” and that means plenty “moneeey!” for us. Our government has given no account to the people on the state of this aspect of our patrimony which we the people entrusted to them.
There was no mention of oil and gas in the 2019 and 2020 budget statements, even though the Prime Minister and Minister of Finance promised us a lot of money from that sector in early 2018.
Keith Mitchell has presided over the collapse of the agricultural, light manufacturing and offshore financial services sectors. He now presides over a tainted and secretive CBI Programme selling our citizenship, our birthright to unknown individuals who sometimes turn out to be crooks. Added to that, he has for the most part, invited fraudsters and conmen to our country, posing as legitimate‘investors’. His failure to realise the promised windfall from the oil and gas sector, our last frontier, continues to have a debilitating effect on our economy.
The figures show that our stagnated economy can do well with a boost in exports at this time. According to the figures in the 2020 budget statement, we only received $47.4m in revenue from exports in 2019, while we spent $634.1m on imports. Our trade deficit is therefore over half a billion dollars. These figures do not mesh with a booming economy.
Instead of revenues from oil and gas and other productive sectors, we rely almost entirely on revenues from taxation. There is a constant increase in taxation and more aggression towards tax payers from the collections division of the Inland Revenue Department. The truth is tax collection is now Government’s only source of revenue.
Despite these facts, Mitchell continues to insist that we have a booming economy, but the indicators of same simply do not exist. Our individual and collective spending power continues to decline with poverty rates worsening. People are not thriving but barely surviving.
Our crumbling infrastructure is another clear indicator that our economy is struggling, not booming. Everywhere around the country are large potholes, broken roadways, bridges and retaining walls that remain unattended even though they are obvious safety hazards. In the Ministry of Infrastructure Development, Public Utilities, Transport & Implementation (formerly Ministry of Works), established positions remain vacant with no explanation. These include: Project Officer, Chief Technical Officer, Engineer x2, Maintenance Engineer x2, Quantity Surveyor, Engineering Assistant and Surveyor.
No wonder the implementation rate for capital projects is at the failing grade of 50%! Of the $196.4m allocated to capital projects in 2019, by June only $23.7m was spent and there is no disclosure of spending after June 2019. If the economy is booming and there is so much infrastructural work to be done, why then are these positions not filled? Is it because there are no available party loyalists to fill them?
In a booming economy, how does the Government justify cutting spending for youth ventures like the Mpower and Imani programs by 38% and 20% respectively? How does the Government in a booming economy justify cutting spending for the Needy Assistance, SEED, University Tuition Assistance and the Burial Assistance Programmes?
Our sad reality is that while our people are in dire need of a real economic boost, our Prime Minister and his Ministers have grossly mismanaged our resources and yet continue to peddle the fallacy of a booming economy. They are doing so to divert our focus from the fact that they have treacherously and unapologetically divested our country of the one last chance that we had for real growth. That is, our oil and gas sector.
So while our Guyanese friends are poised to become world’s fastest growing and most prosperous nation; and while our Surinamese neighbours just signed a lucrative Production Sharing Agreement for the exploration and development of their oil and gas resources, Grenadians remain entirely in the dark about what has become of ours, our patrimony.
Indeed, the NDC wonders whether anyone except Keith Mitchell and Gregory Bowen knows the current state of affairs with our oil and gas. If that is the case, we urge the others to press these two men for answers. Remember, as Cabinet you are all collectively responsible and in the end, you will all be held accountable.
(The above reflects the views of the main opposition National Democratic Congress)