As it settles in to gather an understanding of what it has inherited from the previous administration, the Irfaan Ali government will be confronted with quite a few challenges, one being the equitable distribution of the oil wealth. Making this pronouncement in his most recent writings was Sir Ronald Sanders, Ambassador to the United States and the Organization of American States (since 2015) and non-resident High Commissioner to Canada (since 2017) for Antigua and Barbuda.
The envoy was keen to note that Guyana has become a hotbed for new oil and gas production. He reminded that since 2015, there have been 19 oil discoveries, resulting in estimated recoverable petroleum resources of more than eight billion barrels. Between December 2019 and June 2020, he recalled that this newly found wealth in oil and gas provided the government with US$95 million in royalties paid by ExxonMobil from its first two oil sales. On this note, Sir Ronald said that this money could go a very long way to alleviate the circumstances of the Guyanese people who, since the 1980s, have been the second poorest in the Caribbean; Haitians being the poorest.
Sir Ronald highlighted that per capita income in 2018 for Guyana was US$4,760, less than half the average for the Latin American and Caribbean region. He also pointed to a 2014 World Bank survey that identified “not enough money” as the most significant factor limiting financial inclusion in Guyana. It also said that low per capita income is only part of the problem; skewed income distribution toward the wealthiest is also significant.
Given Guyana’s new revenue stream, the Ambassador said that income levels should now increase, improving living standards for all, particularly the poor. He was keen to note however that achieving this would depend on how well the oil revenues are managed and how equitably they are distributed in Guyana’s society where he said race has been a more defining characteristic than class.
The diplomat said, “This will be the first challenge that Guyana’s new president, Irfaan Ali, and his government will face. Former president Bharat Jagdeo, now a vice president, has said that the new government would establish a petroleum commission “to ensure the sector is not subjected to undue political interference.” Sir Ronald expressed that such an initiative would go some way to assuaging fears about the management of the oil and gas revenues.