Chairpersons, special invitees, ladies and gentlemen, it is always a joy for me to be amongst such amazing people and I am indeed honoured to be asked to share a few moments with you. I bring you greetings from my Minister, His Excellency President David Granger, and the staff within the Department of Energy, Ministry of the Presidency.
When asked to speak at such fora the first question often asked is ‘what is this oil and gas business all about’ followed closely by ‘how can I benefit?’ These are indeed valid questions and, undoubtedly, exciting times for the Cooperative Republic of Guyana. They are even more exciting because we are about to embark on a journey which we have never embarked on before. Since Guyana’s first commercial oil discovery in May 2015 and the 15 other discoveries since then, we have seen Guyanese move from excitement, to cynicism, to cautious optimism, to growing expectation and lastly to a dawning realization that Guyana is on the cusp of something great!
But transformational change must not become a cliché, but a realty. While according to the Chinese proverb “Every journey begins with a single step”, the Cooperative Republic of Guyana is about to experience a tectonic shift in its development trajectory that behoves us all to be prepared and well positioned to both contribute to and benefit from this new discovery source.
As young people, we do have quite an undertaking before us. The journey doesn’t begin tomorrow, the journey should have begun yesterday. The Cooperative Republic of Guyana, as a new and emerging energy producer, finds itself in a crucial and unprecedented position in the country’s history for sustained economic growth and development that can benefit both current and future generations. However, to take advantage of this opportunity, optimization of the net benefits from our national patrimony is essential, fostered, inter alia, by the creation and enforcement of the requisite regulatory frameworks, increased human capacity built and sustained for the oil and gas and other sectors, and for robust standards and procedures and instituted to maximize the benefits of the oil proceeds. In short, we know we’re often anxious.
As children, tomorrow means nothing, today means everything, but it is essential for us to understand that tomorrow will not come if there is no today and so it is essential for us to build-out the requisite frameworks, ensure that the requisite foundations are laid that would allow us to then be able to extract optimum value. With 16 discoveries thus far, many metres of pipes already laid for first oil, over 1,300 Guyanese employed directly in the sector, over US$100 million injected into the economy between 2018 and 2019 and first oil projected for Q1 in 2020, I would be lying if I were to say I am not excited.
This is accompanied by the fact that Guyana has seen over 70 joint ventures/partnerships and alliances already established with foreign entities. But all this means nothing to the man who is still without a job, the woman still trying to fill her child’s lunch kit, the individual looking to move from renting to owning their own homes, the new graduate struggling with a student loan, and public and private sector workers aiming for greater disposable income. But these have to be tempered with the realization that the benefits will accrue over time rather than all in 2020.
Furthermore, excitement alone will not get us where we want to go, but as the Scriptures remind us, “Be prepared”. But to be prepared and benefit, certain prerequisites both from a practical individual and nation state standpoint will need to be in place, inclusive of:
1. staying informed through turning our ears to wisdom, and applying our hearts to understanding and critically analyse what is presented to us. We live in a time when everything is working at turbo speed. We have access to Google; we have access to other search engines, but we also have access to a multiplicity of other data sources. Do not confine yourself to a single source of information, but as students, as young adults, as those who are interested in the sector; seek to research as wide a field a possible. Keep yourself fully abreast of developments.
2. training and competency building, certification, standards enhancement, and behavioural amendments are also necessary. It’s not about how bright you are, as my teacher often reminded us; it is not your aptitude that will determine your altitude, but ultimately it is your attitude and so it is important that as people in this country, we stop thinking just about what oil and gas will do for me, and start thinking about how I can contribute to economic development and welfare of this country.
3. cultural shift through embracing love for self and country. Be willing to launch out into the deep. Do not set your aim because of a skewed perspective. Yes, we live in a society in which the perspective is often how quickly can I get rich; how much ‘Gs’ can I accumulate; life is not just about money. It is also about integrity and standards and so it is imperative that as we plan for tomorrow; we put the requisite frameworks in place that will help us to get there. We must be able to foster greater infrastructural development and have a collective vision of where we want to go as a nation. These should allow for a greater proportion of Guyanese benefitting directly and indirectly from the oil and gas sector and the revenues derived therefrom.
The arrival of the Lisa Destiny is a culmination of the Operators and the contractors’ technological ingenuity, matched by Guyanese pragmatism. The Liza Destiny, for those of us who have not had the chance to see it, the longest gallery is about 350 metres; it is roughly the size of the National Stadium and it can hold up to 1.6 million barrels of oil at any one time. It is by no stretch of the imagination a small vessel. In Guyanese parlance we would call it a ‘beast’, but that having been said.
We also are already seeing Guyanese being employed on this vessel. To date, there are about 25 Guyanese who are being trained out of a total complement of about 70, to take up employment on the Liza Destiny. I’m saying this to you because you have to dream the dream. Your horizons are way beyond anything that we would have experienced and so you are in a princely position, but you will not get there just because you’re a Guyanese. You will not get there just because you’re entitled to. You will get there based on what investments are made today for the future.
But all of this will pale into insignificance unless we appreciate and learn to live together as a nation. Not judging each other or distributing the proceeds from the oil largesse based on the colour of our skins, the texture of our hairs or our political affiliation, but based on the fact that we are all Guyanese. Oil and gas will not help us if we turn a blind eye when something goes wrong because this is ‘my boy/girl, they are ‘like me’, or because we have become compromised. Doing what is right must always be our hallmark.
Experience across the globe has demonstrated that when development occurs, such as in the oil and gas sector and the new Guyana that is emerging, having the human capacity and the technological infrastructure to deal with this transformation are essential.
The Department of Energy will continue to work with all serious-minded and committed partners in the industry, the regulatory authorities and national and regional governments to ensure the successful, efficient and effective long-term development of Guyana’s oil and gas resources for all Guyanese.
These resource are expected to assist our people and communities to grow and prosper. Guyana is finally moving towards unleashing her potential. We are on a journey, but a journey not for the faint-hearted, nor the sluggard, but one for aggressive, industrious and innovative minds – in other words, you cannot expect to be on par with your compatriots, to be on par with your colleagues if you are not willing to put in the effort. We have heard about naturally gifted athletes, naturally gifted students. What no one says to you is that they often work harder than the average to realise their potential. What you put in is what you will get out.
A journey where our children can shatter glass ceilings and be what their potentials allow them to be without fear or favour. Where our young men and women can dream dreams to be gainfully employed and be captains of their own destinies. Where families can see expanding disposal incomes and a future right here in Guyana and where our seniors can be assured of social, economic and physical security for the remainder of their years. These are indeed exciting times to be a Guyanese!
But in a new and emerging petro-developmental state, local content policies that the Government of Guyana is currently developing, support infant industries, particularly outside conventional oil and gas support industries. These industries can grow and develop comparative advantages, over time, in areas of economic activity that have non-oil applications and eventually employ large numbers of people and contribute to building a more robust economy through resource-led development such as tourism, agriculture; having more accountants, economists, engineers, scientists, lawyers, taxi drivers, aeronautical engineers. In our continuous engagements, what comes forth very forcefully is that Guyana has a shortage of the requisite skills. Whether they are engineers, mechanical, civil, construction, electrical; these are all areas that we should be focused on.
We are seeing that most of the oil finds are happening nearly 100 miles offshore meaning traffic to and fro is largely via aircraft. Studies in aeronautic engineering, aeronautic repairs, aircraft repairs, all of these are areas that we should be putting our minds to. You, the next generation of children, are going to be using more technological equipment than we ever dreamed of because much of what will be done will be utilising technology. So Information Technology skills will remain important. I’m saying all of this because sometimes we become narrow in thinking, ‘I need to become a petroleum engineer’. ‘I need to become a petroleum geologist’. If that’s your dream then follow it, but do know that there is a whole new horizon before our very eyes in which we have insufficient resources to currently fill.
We are setting in place the relevant policy environment and the conditions to allow our Guyanese private sector to participate fully and take advantage of Guyana’s resources. The challenge, furthermore, is not about the creation of jobs – it’s how to create jobs that are good for the citizens, and also how to produce outcomes of the education system that fit the job market. Skills to be developed, both for the oil and gas sector and the development to occur from the revenues generated therefrom, must be targeted, strategically developed and nurtured immediately. Encouraging enhanced training, education and skill levels to meet the industry employment standards are priorities we are always looking to do more of, and to do it better.
In closing, as the debate continues around local content, petroleum commission and the legislative framework, we must also be engaging with members of the public, schools, technical institutions, universities, the private sector and so forth, to ensure that they are prepared, not just for the oil and gas sector, but for first oil and the resources emanating therefrom. The best we can do for our people is build their capacities to be able to participate in the boom that is projected to come from the oil revenues.
Furthermore, the Department is keen to ensure that the systems of transparency and good governance remain wholesome for all to have an equal opportunity to participate. I therefore want to encourage us to grasp this substantial opportunity that is before us. Let’s work together. Keep being aspirational because your latter rain is going to be greater than your former.
I thank you!