By Raffique Shah
January 18, 2021
The urgency with which this nation must address the issues that threaten to throw us back into the Stone Age cannot be over-emphasised. We were already in deep trouble when Covid-19 struck with pandemic force in early 2020, sending us reeling from blows to the body, the mind, even the spirit. The energy and petrochemicals sectors faced grim circumstances, the availability of natural gas, the key feedstock of the latter’s operations, being of grave concern, and the markets for their products saturated and dampened.
Our crude oil production had shrunk to approximately 50,000 bpd, often less than that. We could not secure a steady 100,000 bpd, which had been as the new benchmark after we fell from 150,000 bpd. New oil-finds had become rare and insignificant, especially when they were juxtaposed with Guyana’s billion-barrel-lakes. Government had closed the Pointe-a-Pierre refinery, paid off the 5,000-odd employees huge severance packages, and left only oil production intact.
In that unstable environ, several ammonia and methanol plants decelerated their operations, as did the giant Atlantic LNG. Offshore exploration for gas also declined from the heady days a decade back when discovery of new replacement reserves of a few trillion cubic feet was a certainty every year.
Outside of energy, the manufacturing sector trailed, but remained a reliable contributor to GDP and foreign exchange earnings. Unemployment levels were low, the social services and make-work programmes kept those condemned to existence at minimum wages out of abject poverty. Only crime kept growing like a malignant cancer, reminding us that notwithstanding our wealth—the international rating agencies and organisations like the International Monetary Fund classified us as being neither-developed-nor-undeveloped—we had systemic problems that kept us in a state of social and economic purgatory.
That was how we were when Covid-19 struck in 2020, and for far too many years before that. By the time the pandemic had all but shut down the industrialised and technological world as we knew it, like most countries, we suffered blows so severe, we remain punch-drunk, gasping for oxygen, groping for something to save us from drowning.
To be fair to the incumbent government, it reacted sensibly, adopting the defensive measures that the World Health Organisation and other similar agencies had advised nations to do. It focused first on preventing the pandemic from invading the country by adopting harsh lockdown, travel and quarantine measures. It also moved quickly enough to tap into now-scarce funds and roll out a slew of emergency financial support measures that, when combined with the natural generosity and human compassion that run deep in the veins of our people, saved hundreds, nay, thousands, from dying from starvation or surviving in squalor.
Indeed, the pandemic brought to the fore some of the more beautiful qualities of homo sapiens, a caring that we thought did not exist, what with the materialism that drives the world we live in, the greed that has pervaded societies of great contrasts across the world. The population rose to the occasion, something we can all be proud of.
But now comes the reckoning, the time to face some harsh realities if this nation is to survive, to emerge from the pandemic-long-dark-night into the near-apocalyptic-afterworld, prepared to shed some of the grime we grew to see as normal in the pre-pandemic era, but which we knew all along were unholy, unacceptable, negatives that we must replace with positives.
Already, I can sense the suspicion, the murmuring: what the hell Shah coming with now? Easy, my countrymen. I am not mad, rest assured of that. Nor am I inhumane. However, I was always one to speak out, and that I do now. We cannot return to the old order in which the masses saw politicians only when they, the politicians, were seeking votes. We cannot continue caricaturing democracy as the few minutes citizens spend in polling booths once every four or five years, if I may paraphrase the Reverend Roy Nehall. We will no longer settle for you, Mr Politician, promising us to, say, bring the procurement of goods and services worth many billions of dollars every year, under scrutiny of the masses so that they see their—yes, theirs, not yours—dollars spent well, contracts awarded fairly, only to have you change the goalposts, the pitch, the wickets, just so.
No, Sah. Massa day not only done, wiped clean with all the bleach and sanitizers we have used, and continue to use to kill Covid. Massa day gone forever. So you, Mr Politician, will bring the procurement legislation to the masses, not just parliamentarians. You see, Sah, Covid introduced we to Zoom. So now all ah we could listen and have a voice. Tell we Mr. Politician, why foreign governments that make guns or ships or build hospitals or whatever, think that dey worthy of contracts worth billions of our dollars but dey cannot face public scrutiny. Tell we. Explain that to we.
Maybe you convince we, maybe not. But we want real democracy post Covid-19. (To be continued)