October 13, 2023
The Caribbean Policy Consortium (www.cpcaribbean.org), and the Guyana Business Journal (www.guyanabusinessjournal.com) hosted a Webinar –Transforming Guyana Season II, Episode V: Transparency & Accountability and the Emerging Guyanese Oil and Gas Economy, on Wednesday, October 11,
Guyana’s Emergent Oil and Gas Economy: Navigating Transparency, Accountability, and Citizen Participation
In the recent Guyana Business Journal Webinar titled “Transforming Guyana Season II, Episode V,” a diverse group of experts convened to discuss the intricacies of transparency and accountability in the emerging Guyanese oil and gas economy. The webinar held on October 11 featured prominent speakers such as Michael Skol, Elson Low, Joel Bhagwandin, Troy Thomas, David Lewis, and Terrence Blackman, each of whom brought forth salient insights into the topic.
At the outset, David Lewis shed light on the monumental importance of institutionalizing mechanisms that prioritize transparency, accountability, and anti-corruption measures. Emphasizing that Guyana is not in this journey alone, he spotlighted the many global support structures available. For Lewis, the message was clear: Guyana should proactively harness these global resources and insights to craft its path forward.
On a similar note, Terrence Blackman drew attention to Guyana’s relatively favorable standing regarding economic and political risk, especially when juxtaposed against Venezuela. He called for the country to indulge in more expansive information-sharing practices. For Blackman, Guyana is perched on the precipice of a unique economic opportunity, the benefits of which can only be fully realized through collective diligence and foresight.
Michael Skol addressed the surging global disdain for corrupt practices and money laundering by echoing the undercurrent of caution. Guyana, in his view, should not only take lessons from international scenarios but should also proactively demonstrate its investment-worthiness. Notably, Skol’s reference to Venezuela, arguably grappling with significant corruption, was a potent reminder of the path Guyana should strive to avoid.
Adding another dimension to the discourse, Elson Low emphasized the pressing need to establish a Petroleum Commission. According to Low, such a body would provide the much-needed insulation from overt political influences, ensuring that the oil and gas sector operates within a robust governance framework rather than merely functioning through ad-hoc mechanisms.
Joel Bhagwandin provided an optimistic perspective, underscoring the buoyant investor confidence currently associated with Guyana. For Bhagwandin, the onus of upholding accountability and transparency doesn’t rest solely on institutional frameworks but also individuals and every entity in the ecosystem.
Last but not least, Troy Thomas anchored his insights in the constitutional ethos of Guyana, which anticipates an active role for citizens in decision-making processes. He passionately advocated for fostering avenues that facilitate citizen engagement, particularly in transparency and accountability. Drawing parallels from global contexts, especially the Venezuelan oil and gas debacle, Thomas reiterated the importance of proactive, informed governance.
Guyana stands on the cusp of an economic metamorphosis powered by its emerging oil and gas sector; the challenges and opportunities ahead are manifold. While the potential for unparalleled growth exists, Guyana must institutionalize transparency, nurture accountability, and champion active citizenry. Taking cues from international precedents, especially cautionary tales like Venezuela, will be instrumental in ensuring Guyana’s positive trajectory in the coming years.
- Michael Skol, Principal, SKOL & SERNA & Senior Associate, Manchester Trade Ltd. Inc.
- Elson Low, Economic and Youth Policy Advisor to the Leader of the Opposition, Guyana
- Joel Bhagwandin, Director, SphereX Professional Services | Commissioner, Public Procurement Commission, Guyana
- Troy Thomas, Dean, Faculty of Natural Sciences, Director of Undergraduate Research
- David Lewis, Vice President, Manchester Trade Ltd. Inc. & Co-Chair, Caribbean Policy Consortium
- Terrence Blackman, Founder, Guyana Business Journal
- “In Guyana, across the board, this is a work in progress…Institutions matter. The creation of public sector, private sector, civil society institutions focusing on transparency, accountability and anticorruption initiatives are critical.”
- “It’s very important that, at some point, a lot of this be focused on in terms of those skills, the training, and the human resource and institutional capacity and capability in Guyana to manage this largess.”
- “There is an entire global infrastructure that can support Guyana in many of these initiatives, and it behooves the country at the government, private sector, civil society level to take advantage of this. We’re not starting from scratch and Guyana is not alone.”
- “Venezuela is ten times more risky than Guyana…We’re not a basket case and we’re growing. The question is how we can grow faster in this arena. How we can subsume some of our instincts to secrecy and begin to see that transparency has much more value to us in this moment.”
- “Our cultural tendency is toward acting in smaller groups, towards minimizing the sharing of information broadly. We’re now in a world which requires us, in order to get it right, to share things broadly.”
- “This is a once-in-a-500-year opportunity. We have to keep in mind that it took us much more than 500 years to get to this point, and we owe the people who will be Guyanese 500 years from now being rigorous and thoughtful in this moment.”
- “This is a period of rising pressure and rising penalties for corruption and money laundering. Investors are placing an ever-higher premium on sending their money to places which can demonstrate their clean credentials.”
- “Guyana has a unique and obvious nearby example of what it should not be. Venezuela today is arguably the most corrupt country in the Western Hemisphere, possibly the world. Guyana can profit by showing it is not Venezuela.”
- “It is incumbent on Guyana in the present circumstances to demonstrate that you can be trusted from the outset, from right now. That would be the best investment of all.”
- “I think Guyana is doing the right thing. It is competing for oil investment, and I am absolutely convinced in these circumstances that every hour, every dollar spent on counter-money laundering and anticorruption comes back manyfold to help the people of Guyana.”
- “I think the way forward is for the Petroleum Commission – which the government has promised but not put in place – to be established so that we can move these issues into a space where they’re not political actors but can have established processes and structures in place so that transparency and accountability really are dealt with they way they should be dealt with.”
- “From the perspective of justice, we in Guyana have a right to have people in positions that are in the way that they are intended to be. It should not be a makeshift process every single year, but rather that people are able to act without fear of victimization, fear of influence.”
- “The reason we have institutions and structures in place is so that we can produce good decisions…There is a difference between governing well and governing. You can govern, go through the motions, but are you doing a good job when it comes to your governance.”
- “These risks affect international investors’ view of a country, whether they can trust us enough to place their capital.”
- “The evidence is such that investments are coming into the country with strong interests, some of which have manifested. So, we are at the point in this country for the first time in our history where investors’ confidence is sky high.”
- “Accepting responsibility is a key caveat, a fundamental facet of accountability…When we speak of accountability and transparency for a country, everybody and every institution have a role to play.”
- “That [Article 13 of the Constitution] tells me that we anticipate that citizens must be involved in decision-making. We anticipate that citizens’ organizations must have access to the decision-making process and to be able to make meaningful input.”
- “Transparency, accountability should not seem like anything strange. In fact, if we’re not doing it, we’re not doing our jobs as citizens…It is not only a weight on the government. Citizens also have to create ways of participating and perhaps of finding new modes of engaging and have the impact that is necessary.”
- “If revenues from the oil sector are allowing us to move the needle in terms of well-being of citizens, then I think we’re doing something right.”
- “Because the oil and gas sector promises to generate revenue on such large scales, and because we have examples around the world – Venezuela right next door – of what can happen even when you have that, I think it’s so much more important that we avoid repeating any of that.”
Terrence Blackman, Ph.D., Founder & CEO Guyana Business Journal firstname.lastname@example.org