On this first day of the New Year I wish my readers, the readers of SN and all Guyanese, a joyful day and a successful 2022. In the new year we should give some thought to the thirty percent of Guyanese who live below the poverty line and about thirty percent of those who live in extreme poverty, as well as the many foreigners entering our country seeking refuge from economic and other circumstances. Outside of these groups, a large number of Guyanese struggle every day to ensure that food is on the table. It should be our nation’s first priority in the new year to ensure that life is made better for these disadvantaged groups. Guyana now has sufficient resources, and will soon acquire more, to make an immediate, positive, impact on the lives of those in difficult circumstances. Despite the disputes and differences of opinion among us on many things, few would challenge any priority being given to alleviate the conditions of the distressed.
Great challenges will face Guyana in the new year. The most immediate is the covid-19 pandemic and Omicron, its new, virulent, strain. Although we do not have the capacity to detect Omicron, its presence will soon be reflected in increasing infections, hospitalisations and, possibly, deaths. I am not aware of the energy and resources that have gone into promoting vaccinations, but we have been stuck for the longest while in the 50 percent range, perhaps upper 50 percent by now, of persons who have been double vaccinated. This is appallingly low and even worse for those who have had their booster shots. Unless the drive for more persons to complete the process and be boosted, the effect on the health of Guyanese will be consequential and mandates will most likely have to be increased.
In the course of this year two great issues will dominate the attention of Guyanese in relation to the petroleum industry. The first will be the systems to be put in place to create management structures for or in relation to the industry. A start has been made with the passage of the Local Content and the Natural Resources Acts. The first has been passed after successful negotiations. But the second was the victim of a grave disruption of the proceedings in the National Assembly. The effort to dislodge the mace, to prevent the Minister of Finance from speaking and to terrorise both him, the Speaker and the Speaker’s staff, who fought off, or had to be protected from, whistle blowing MPs, banging the desks, constituted a disgraceful spectacle.
It remains to be seen whether court challenges will be raised to the passage of the Natural Resources Act, as threatened, by those who were responsible for the creation of the outrage. But the Standing Orders make no reference to the mace. It is therefore only symbolic of the authority of the Speaker and the power of the Parliament to pass laws. Many parliaments have conducted business without the mace being present or with substitute maces. I am also told that the visual record will show that at the time the vote was taken, all Government MPs were in their seats. If disciplinary action is taken against offending MPs, a boycott of the National Assembly by the Opposition would be on the cards. There have been several boycotts since 1992. They achieved nothing in the past and will achieve nothing in the future.
There are other legislative instruments that would be required to establish the structures to manage the petroleum industry, such as a Petroleum Commission. Currently this is done by two units, one under the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission and the other under the Office of the President. If the new leadership of the PNCR intends to adopt a higher level of militancy, other legislation such as for the establishment of the Petroleum Commission, may well attract treatment similar to that of the Natural Resources Act.
The second issue of importance is to determine development priorities. Increased production of 220,000 barrels per day, from 120,000 barrels per day, with the coming into stream of Lisa 2, is due to commence this year. While Guyana will still be paying down on its debt to Exxon, it will still be earning income for 12 ½ percent of production plus 2 percent royalty. For obvious reasons poverty alleviation, social services such as health and education and infrastructure are likely to attract the most attention. While there is unlikely to be any objection to these priorities, there is likely to be massive scrutiny on transparency and accountability in the awarding of contacts and in the expenditure of funds. This has been the single most contentious issue to be faced by the PPP and it has transitioned from one PPP government to the next. It has not subsided, and it is likely to attract continuing controversy and disruption, unless substantially enhanced laws and administrative measures are implemented.
Political instability will continue to challenge progress and reasoned debate in Guyana. The disturbing displays in the National Assembly are merely a symptoms of deeper political problem. Let us hope that the New Year will usher in a resolve to address political issues and a greater commitment to compromise.