As Guyana continues to avoid solving long-standing and ingrained problems, as the political and business elites of all stripes continue to keep the majority suffering and poor, all this forfeiting much value for future generations, I reflect on the last few years as Guyanese achieved first oil and are approaching elections. Below are some of my notes and recommendations from mid-2017. This one concerns oil, elections and performance of government.
From mid-2017, written long before the no-confidence vote:
Voter sentiment in 2020 with respect to first oil date, election strategies, and other issues.
The margin in the 2015 election was in the range of noise. It is unlikely an incumbent government, somewhat bruised after five years in power, will benefit the same way it did when it was new, untested, and full of promise. A possible approach for the 2020 election for such an incumbent government:
- Assume the chance of being re-elected is low.
- Assume the swing voters in 2015 voted for the coalition because of its manifesto, its promise of change, and especially its promise to make government accountable. Hence immediately bring a laser focus to achieving the manifesto goals, and hold Ministers accountable. Set about 3-5 explicit targets for each Minister, with milestones for 3, 6 and 12 months, tied to the 2015 manifesto. Targets should be made public.
- Assume the swing voters in 2015 did not vote for the coalition because they wanted it to bring oil by 2020, and because they felt the PPP could not bring oil by 2020, since either party could equally bring oil by 2020.
- Hence assume first oil by 2020 will not be a big factor with the voters in the 2020 election.
- Assume the voters would like to see the government negotiating a fair deal with Exxon which maximises the benefit to the people of Guyana over the long term.
- Assume the voters would like to see the government setting up the O&G industry in a way to insulate it from and reduce possible future mismanagement and corruption. And in a way which benefits the people, and not officials and businessmen.
- Assume the voters would like to see some national development prior to 2020 in the form of infrastructure, education, healthcare, etc, which would require borrowing.
- Hence consider borrowing now to fund the start of national infrastructure development.
- But more importantly, assume the voters would like to see robust long term strategic and tactical plans for developing Guyana using O&G revenue. These plans could include: significant pay raises for all public sector employees; extensive infrastructure and agricultural development (continuing on from the pre-2020 projects); making UG the preeminent university in the Caribbean; making Guyana (and Iwokrama) the leading centre for research into rainforest and green issues; making Guyana a test case and leading research centre for dealing with rising sea level; making Guyana a cultural and commercial link between the Anglo Caribbean countries and Latin South American countries, i.e. the Switzerland of region (all Guyanese would become proficient in Spanish and Portuguese); etc; etc.
The above note from mid-2017 is not a criticism of one dinosaur political party over the other, as I previously wrote that the other dinosaur is likely to be worse with respect to oil. Also, I believe the important decision before Guyanese should not be about which dinosaur is worse, but it should be about how to break with the past to create a new and altogether different future. This is especially critical now as we are forfeiting most of our oil wealth.