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OPINION: Local commentators coy and silent about local ‘Exxons’… pre-oil poor will be poorer after oil

by GHK Lall

Everybody (except me) have dived into the national sport that is Exxon bashing.  Though I still stand by what I shared from the inception, I agree that some of the barbs and blows might be deserving.  But I believe that the attention and obsession of the sentinels and verbal pile-drivers are misplaced, and indicative of coyness and muteness on the domestic front; they need to look closer to home at the local Exxon equivalents.

I recognize that Exxon presents a fat juicy bulls-eye that is risk-free and polishes patriotic credentials.  The local oil machinery, a vocal paper one, sees in Exxon an irresistible and largely passive football to be kicked about; makes for good media theater.  Foreign powers taking unfair advantage of locals is an ancient theme with a gong. Nevertheless, I suggest that local commentators spare some of their time and relentless scrutiny to examine what is happening locally right under their noses, and without so much as a yelp of concern.  The cornering and monopolizing by a handful are given the blessing of a free pass, a silent one. What is happening is the angling, partnering, and contracting that has unobtrusively proliferated. This is best encapsulated by two loaded words: real estate. I encourage the clamorous to reposition their intellectual satellites along the East Bank waterfront.  This should wonderfully concentrate their minds. Call them oligarchs, wildcatters, investors (or whatever pleases), but today a few well-established players control that immensely valuable and strategic stretch of pivotal access points. Longtime, old-time hegemony, and all the resentments that such incur, are reiterated and extended. It is both exclusive club and closed shop.  If this is spreading the wealth, then somebody forgot to include the poor peons. Who cares? Just bring on Exxon!

Wharfage, labor, unloading, storage, cartage, and a whole range of chandlery facilities are increasingly the domain of a privileged few.  Everybody is mum on this and looking the other way. Some old money is involved; but the nouveau riche arrivistes are right there and struggling mightily to position for the cascade of rich oil action.  Guyanese should need no introduction as to the source of funds for the nouveau riche. There is some reluctance to let this troubled moneyed crowd inside the threshold as there are qualms and fears. Membership and partnership are not going to be cheap, but the financial muscles are present.  Thus, I see that some of the leading lights holding their noses right now will be forced to eat crow eventually by holding out their hands in grudging brotherhood. They will be well-rewarded as those wanting to get on the inside of the Exxon free-for-all have deep bottomless pockets to pay their way, even it means just a shot at the crumbs for a start.  It is a short distance to commingling; but oil is a good cover story and lends credence to diversification efforts. It is a shorter distance to get on the wrong side of the Americans who are familiar with the local persons of interest.

Cumulatively, these leaders of the blue-blood commercial packs were labeled “middlemen” not too long ago.  I see them as top-of-the line capitalists (predators) who hold the keys to the local oil kingdom. And the problem with capitalists is their insatiable greed; there is not much left for the little people, other than as heavy lifters and haulers and hustlers in this great Guyanese game.  As always, the alpha sharks get to gorge themselves of the cream and crop. The army of bottom-feeders are left to fend for themselves and fight off one another to get to the occasional entrails discarded their way. Trickle-down it is termed. It is apt. Amidst all the chatter I am still to hear the champions of the people, the promised life, and Exxon rapacity expounding on these inequities sure to be repeated when the oil train rolls into town.  I sense shared and overlapping interests. A nice retainer helps. Already, and in the simplest of language, I do not see any material redistribution of the upcoming fabled oil wealth. It is already accounted for at the higher commercial and societal elevations. Thus, the wealth gap extends; it is not theory, simply reality. As if all of this is not enough, reports are that major political figures (past and present) are positioning for capitalizing.  Little of substance is left for the hapless masses.

Meanwhile, poor, hopeful, dreaming Guyanese majority waits for cash payouts and anything on which it can get empty paws.  I forewarn that this might amount to just one more disappointment in a long line of disappointments in an environment heavily tilted against them.  I envision that the pre-oil poor will be poorer still after the oil tsunami lashes this land. Just look at who commandeers all the high rich hunting grounds.  Not much of substance is left for the little ones.