A Knowl­edge-based So­ci­ety

Weekend Mirror - - FRONT PAGE - By Hy­dar Ally

Septem­ber

is des­ig­nated Ed­u­ca­tion Month. It is also Amerindian Her­itage Month. The fol­low­ing month, Oc­to­ber, will be Agriculture Month.

It is, there­fore, an op­por­tune time to re­flect on the trans­for­ma­tive and com­ple­men­tary roles ed­u­ca­tion and agriculture have played in terms of na­tional de­vel­op­ment, in­clud­ing that of our Amerindian com­mu­ni­ties.

Af­ter nearly two cen­tury of Bri­tish colo­nial rule, the coun­try is still pre­dom­i­nantly a pri­mary pro­ducer of agri­cul­tural prod­ucts, mainly rice and sugar, which con­tin­ues to be the largest em­ployer of labour and for­eign ex­change earn­ings. The man­u­fac­tur­ing sec­tor is still largely un­der­de­vel­oped, which hope­fully could change in the fore­see­able fu­ture if the prom­ise of oil and gas be­come a re­al­ity in a few years time as is widely an­tic­i­pated.

We run the risk of be­ing af­fected with the so-called "Dutch Dis­ease" if we make the mis­take of ne­glect­ing our agriculture sec­tor in an­tic­i­pa­tion of a boom­ing oil and gas econ­omy, as sev­eral other oil pro­duc­ing coun­tries have ex­pe­ri­enced es­pe­cially coun­tries that were hith­erto pre­dom­i­nantly agro-based like ours.

We do not have to suf­fer from the mis­takes of other coun­tries if we are smart enough not to put all our eggs in the oil bas­ket. It would seem, how­ever, that this cur­rent ad­min­is­tra­tion is bent on down­scal­ing its two back­bone in­dus­tries, namely sugar and rice pre­sum­ably on the as­sump­tion that oil and gas will pick up the slack in terms of rev­enue short­fall.

Such think­ing is at best short- sighted and fails to take into ac­count a num­ber of im­por­tant vari­ables. The first has to do with em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties, which the agri­cul­tural sec­tor pro­vides to those in the ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties.

Agriculture is largely labour in­ten­sive as op­posed to oil and gas which in the case of Guyana is off­shore and less likely to im­pact on the lo­cal econ­omy in terms of em­ploy­ment gen­er­a­tion and cur­rency circulation.

In any event, it seems more than likely that the bulk of the rev­enues will be si­phoned off and sent over­seas ex­cept for the pay­ment of roy­al­ties and taxes on oil rev­enues.

The sec­ond fac­tor is the likely in­crease in the prices of lo­cal pro­duce and the over­all cost of liv­ing due to de­clin­ing agri­cul­tural out­put. The clo­sure of es­tates and the de­cline in farm­ing would lead to pop­u­la­tion drifts from ru­ral to ur­ban ar­eas, which will put pres­sure on the lim­ited avail­able hous­ing and push up the cost of rentals. Pros­ti­tu­tion and other so­cial ills are likely to in­crease as ru­ral economies con­tract due to the down­siz­ing and even­tual clo­sure of sev­eral sugar es­tates.

The emer­gence of an oil econ­omy can be both a bless- ing and a curse, de­pend­ing on how it is man­aged and con­trolled. The tra­di­tional sec­tors should not be sup­planted, but be sup­ple­mented by us­ing the oil money to cre­ate a knowl­edge based econ­omy. There should be greater em­pha­sis on re­search and de­vel­op­ment and skills train­ing, not only to fa­cil­i­tate the oil sec­tor, but all the other sec­tors, in­clud­ing agriculture and min­ing.

All re­gions of the coun­try should ben­e­fit from oil rev­enues, in­clud­ing the Amerindian com­mu­ni­ties by way of sig­nif­i­cant up­grades of the phys­i­cal and so­cial in­fra­struc­ture. The gov­ern­ment should se­ri­ously con­sider the con­struc­tion of a tech­ni­cal and vo­ca­tional train­ing cen­tre in Re­gion Nine with res­i­den- tial fa­cil­i­ties to ac­com­mo­date stu­dents from other hin­ter­land re­gions.

As men­tioned ear­lier, oil could be good or bad de­pend­ing on how the rev­enues are uti­lized and whose in­ter­ests are be­ing served. This is why there has to be full trans­parency and ac­count­abil­ity of this re­source.

The peo­ple of Guyana are the main stake­hold­ers of this new and emerg­ing sec­tor and it is only fair that they get their fair share of the ben­e­fits that could be gen­er­ated from oil.

The cur­rent ad­min­is­tra­tion for its part should de­sist from hid­ing un­der the fig leaf of le­gal tech­ni­cal­i­ties and in­stead al­low for full dis­clo­sure on the ram­i­fi­ca­tions of the con­tract with Exxon Mo­bil.

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