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Guyana Energy Conference Part III: Energy Security and Sustainable Development

by D Fitz-Roberts
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Continuing from Dr Ashni Singh’s insightful presentation he discussed the government’s focus on placing much emphasis on the non-oil economy to reduce dependence on the burgeoning oil and gas sector. He said the achievement of over eleven percent in 2022 was just the beginning and projections of seven-point nine percent in 2023 were set.

The minister spoke of the phenomenal economic growth of the economy by breaking the nominal GDP, one trillion-dollar mark in 2019 and ended 2022 in excess of three trillion Guyana dollars confirming that over a period of three years the Guyana economy has tripled.

Photo by HenleyCaribbean local rep. Quindel Williams

Minister Singh made the point that the government recognises the turbulent past and is working with a disciplined approach to fiscal management to never return to those days. One measure is to contain the fiscal deficit with extremely prudent borrowing.

The minister was most proud as he spoke of the positive state of the public debt to GDP ratio that was six times the size of the economy (at six hundred percent of GBP) thirty years ago but is now down to twenty-four-point six percent. Dr Singh said this state of affairs places Guyana ahead of every economy in the western hemisphere and provides significant headroom to borrow.

Photo by HenleyCaribbean local rep. Quindel Williams

He introduced the National Resource Fund (NRF) which he said suffered a number of fundamental weaknesses that were fixed by a new act of Parliament that includes a board of directors and stipulations on how deposits are made supported by a transparent withdrawal formula free of political discretion or judgement and is not subject to current year production or price assumptions.

Projected deposits for 2023 are set at one point six billion united states dollars with approved withdrawals through legislative process for said year of just over one billion united states dollars. Further, Minister Singh said, cumulatively in 2026 should see ten point seven billion united states dollars deposited with five point three billion united states dollars in withdrawals.

On public spending the minister recalled that in 2019 twenty-two-point seven percent of public expenditure was spent on public investment while in 2023 nearly a half (forty-nine-point six percent) of the budget is earmarked for public investment on bridges and so on. On housing in 2019 government spent seven hundred million dollars and is on track to spend more than fifty billion dollars in 2023.

Minister Singh wrapped up his speech by announcing that fifty thousand new homes are going to be distributed to Guyanese families over the next five years.

Following Dr Singh’s presentation was a keynote address by Professor Harrie Vredenberg, Professor and Suncor Chair in Strategy & Sustainability, Haskayne School of Business and Research Fellow, School of Public Policy, University of Calgary (Virtual).

Photo by HenleyCaribbean local rep. Quindel Williams

Professor Vredenberg looked at the issue of climate change and how oil producing countries reconcile their production efforts with the need to transition to renewables. In other words, how do policy makers address the climate crisis without leaving anyone behind.

He confirms that climate change really does exist as he has witnessed its effects in Canada and there is documented evidence to support his theory. The professor also asserts from discussions with other academics that their view is that the way oil and gas companies manage their affairs is a big part of why climate change is so pronounced.

Professor Vredenberg and his academic colleagues acknowledge the efforts of civic organisations such as Extinction Rebellion in London who are calling for an end to fossil fuel production and asks the question, ‘how does the industry move forward?’ And he shared a quote from University of Cambridge professor Charles Hampden-Turner, ‘True innovation is reconciling the horns of a dilemma’ as a means of highlighting the existential dilemma the world faces which is reconciling how to address climate change with providing a means of survival for the inhabitants of the countries of the global south.

The professor suggests the answer to this dilemma is technology and he lists a number of technological solutions such as Carbon Capture, Hydrogen (Blue, Green and Aqua), Direct Air Capture, Nuclear and Mangrove preservation much of which exists in Guyana.

In closing Professor Vredenberg shared the oil and gas industry’s response to the activists that there is no switch to flip that will take oil producing countries from fossil fuel to renewables and that such a suggestion, if attempted, would cause grave socio-economic consequences to communities.

Friday 17th February 2023 – Youth Engagement Forum Agenda

The final day of the conference focused more on youth engagement which began with an informative account of SBM Offshore operational practices, procurement policies, requirements and compliance considerations. The pitch was intended to appeal to a young audience of prospective candidates desirous of joining the oil and gas industry.

Photo by HenleyCaribbean local rep. Quindel Williams

This was followed by an inspiring presentation by Joel Bhagwandin, Director Spherex Analytics who employed an animated interactive presentation which sought to convince the young audience that comprised students from a variety of schools to consider remaining in Guyana after leaving school.

He began by defining GDP (Gross Domestic Product) and asking the students to share their understanding of the concept. He then described the Guyana GDP and how it relates to the average person and the importance of understanding it particularly as a businessperson or entrepreneur.

He used the oil and gas sector to explain GDP by performing a simple comparative analysis by examining Guyana’s GDP in 2019 which was four million united states dollars to a GDP of fourteen point three million united states dollars which shows that Guyanese are much better off, theoretically, than they were before the oil and gas exploration.

Mr Bhagwandin took the time to explain to the audience that much of the developments witnessed today are not accidental but part of a national development plan. He directed the students to the Guyana National Development Strategy that was crafted back in 1994, now available online. He said though nearly thirty years old the document is still relevant today as the Demerara Bridge still needs to be constructed as well as highways and deep-water ports to accommodate large ships for international trade.

He spoke on the situation with the labour force and hastily made the distinction between whether Guyana has a labour shortage or a skills shortage. He confirmed that Guyana does not have a labour shortage but has a skills shortage and proceeded to list the professional jobs needed in the oil and gas sector over the next few years, skills that the University of Guyana cannot produce in time. This he said gives rise to the need to import expats to fill vacancies, vacancies that they, the students could undertake should they remain in Guyana after completing their studies.

Photo by HenleyCaribbean local rep. Quindel Williams

Another presenter was Community Relations Advisor, ExxonMobil Guyana, Leonard (Ryan) Hoppie who drove home the importance of hard work and discipline. The fact that he many times as a young CXC student had to rely on moonlight to illuminate his textbooks when there was a power outage. That the students needed to dream big and follow their dreams no matter what they are. Leonard shared his experience of winning the interview for his job at ExxonMobil Guyana, a job he was not sure he was qualified for but was successful at the interview and was hired. He emphasised the need to be ambitious and to do one’s best at any endeavour and his parting charge to the students was, ‘Do Your Best.’

As the day’s activities came to a close Grace Hutson, Account Manager, Halliburton Caribbean Geo Market addressed the youngsters on the subject of what she called ‘The Root Perspective.’ She regarded the students as the roots of a very important large tree, conceivably the oil and gas industry. She enlightened the audience to the United Nations’ seventeen sustainable development goals that every country in the world is working to achieve. Goals that will ensure peace and a healthy and enduring lifestyle for all.

She pointed out that the students are an important part of the developmental conversation in Guyana as they are the ones with the solutions for both today’s and tomorrow’s challenges and they do not have to be graduates from the best schools. Grace affirms that there are many Halliburton employees that have not attended the University of Guyana but are graduates from GTI and elsewhere.

To those who claim they don’t know where to find opportunities she said that the students should look far and wide. First, they should all have a LinkedIn account and specify that they are open to opportunities. Check target companies websites and contact them. Also search for recruitment companies. Lastly, she stressed the importance of having a one-page CV. In closing she said to be open to learning once the students got their first job and continue to seek opportunities for further learning on the job. She also encouraged the students to find a mentor that will help them to understand the industry properly and also constantly work on their communication skills, these are the secrets to success.

The four day event ended on a high note as delegates and attendees all agreed the conference achieved its objectives and all are looking forward to the next installment.

Guyanese in the United Kingdom and Europe who would have liked to participate in the live discussions and workshops can look forward to the first Guyana Diaspora Sustainability & Investment Conference, organised by HenleyCaribbean Sustainable Ventures Limited on Tuesday 3rd and Wednesday 4th October 2023 in London. SAVE THE DATE!

D Fitz-Roberts

D Fitz-Roberts

D Fitz-Roberts is a multi-talented writer on socio-economic issues having worked in journalism across the Caribbean (Grenada, Guyana and BVI) in the 90s. He has worked in London with Black Britain Online, New Nation Newspaper and Caribbean Times. An academic with a passion for research on distributed ledger technologies in emerging economies he is keen to see the Caribbean embrace bitcoin and blockchain technologies to keep pace with the west. He writes periodically for mainstream publications and is the founder of CaribDirect.com. He is also the author of Caribbean children’s book LifeSucks! available on Amazon.


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