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OPINION: Dr. Mark Bynoe_not a spectacular choice, but a safe one

by GHK Lall

Dr. Mark Bynoe

Any selection to head the local Department of Energy would, as sure as the seawall keeps out the Atlantic, raise questions, stir controversy, and inevitably fall short.  In terms of falling short, that would be the settled perspective of all and sundry, including me, as to how Dr. Mark Bynoe measures up. Personally, I had high hopes for Dr. Vincent Adams, since I saw him as the best out there for Guyana.  Now that it is Dr. Bynoe, three interrelated questions are relevant: what does he bring to the local oil world? Second, what is required of this position? And third, what is left for Dr. Bynoe to be?

To address the first question, I tried developing some context by looking at oil majors and the US DOE.  The American DOE was quickly retreated from: too vast, too mind-boggling; and truthfully, simply too much laziness is present at this stage of life.  Merely browsing the organization chart(s) of the US DOE is enough to instill awe and wonder. But a look was taken at a few of the leading oil companies and something stood out: some of the leaders had one thing in common: they have a heavy commercial pedigree, sometimes an illustrious one, and many times after a lengthy history in petroleum specifically.

Now Dr. Bynoe may not have been as completely immersed in a business tradition and business success as these stalwarts, but he does possess a comprehensive business background, perhaps outlook, even though it may be from a textbook only.  He is a highly trained economist, which satisfies only one of the many demands of the head of the Guyana DOE; and he has operated at the right levels internationally, so there is a network of relationships, though not necessarily in oil. But there are so many other facets to such a pivotal and sensitive position, especially for a fledgling oil presence as Guyana which has to start from scratch.  Dr. Bynoe’s learning curve and adaptation to the macho world of oil management and leadership are sure to be steep, if not demanding. This, now, brings to the second question raised at the beginning.

In any choice related to head of the local DOE, the government (read the president) had a dilemma; this one had multiple horns and all stiletto sharp.  Bring an engineer and lack a skilled negotiator; deliver a numbers cruncher and lose a honed legal mind; pick a marketing expert and it is goodbye to a top-notch oil manager.  Stated otherwise, any appointment talented and experienced and highly regarded in one field and there is almost near certainty to be a void as to irreplaceable requisites in other key areas.  An economist, veteran to be sure, is no more recommended, no less blessed, and no less handicapped; whether renowned geologist or proven administrator or successful oil blue blood the reaction at the local level would have been the same: good, but not good enough.  Arguably, Guyanese Dr. Vincent Adams would have been the person garnering something resembling unanimity on this issue. Of course, Exxon had other ideas, and that weighed heavily.

So, given his operational and sectoral limitations, what is going to be Dr. Bynoe’s role, as envisioned by this government?  President Granger himself summed this up in rather elliptical fashion. I will outline the same expectations in my own way, which should be close to what the president just shared.  Dr. Bynoe’s role is to know what he does not know. Being so armed (and so sensible), he is to assemble a corporate body of the human parts missing to arrive somewhere near an acceptable whole.  It may never be a complete one, and a far from perfectly functional one, but it must deliver something, even if only at the margins to use a word and concept much favored by economists. This being Guyana, it will suffice for some time.

All the people (education, skills, history) that Dr. Bynoe is not, he must find and quickly.  Since Guyana is new to oil, all those oilmen are going to have to come from outside. All this translates to: petroleum engineers, petroleum accountants and auditors, petroleum lawyers and negotiators, petroleum marketers, petroleum actuaries, and petroleum environmentalists, among others; the whole kit and caboodle of them has to be sourced and brought on board.  It is goodbye nonexistent local content, and welcome USA, perhaps Trinidad and Tobago, even someplace else like Angola. In sum, Dr. Bynoe’s chief roles are coordinator and public relations management; and, of course, careful political consultation. Every now and again, the good doctor can make the rounds, throw in some numbers, and make reassuring noises for local consumption.  He can then report to the president that all is well.

Dr. Bynoe may not be the best choice, or the next best one.  Still, he may turn out to be manageable, if not workable, as long as he makes the periodic deliverable.  He has to be a man for all seasons. The problem is that there is only one season in Guyana: election season.  Remember what happened to the historical man for all seasons, Lord Chancellor, Sir Thomas More: he lost his head.  So the choice of Dr. Bynoe will not go down in Guyana’s oil history as a spectacular one; in time, it may be considered a safe one.  Except for Dr. Bynoe, that is. The knives are out already. Mark my words.