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OPINION: Political dogfight is over (cheap) oil

By GHK Lall

We reach for a mirage, we clutch at straws, we sprawl before the world.

In my estimation, Guyana’s political junkyard dogfight is all about power. I am unmoving that ascending to power provides the first access to the feverishly desired control and dissipation of that opulent oil ocean out there within this country’s borders. Though those are what is of restating the now undeniable, already those worst of calculations are losing horsepower and grabbing power and spending power by the day, if not by the minute. I say this and am prepared to stand by this without retreat, despite all the plasters and cosmetics about democracy and process and the rest. My position is: what do we know about democracy? What do we know about what is demanded of each and every one of us to make it work? It is why I submit that what we are doing is struggling to hold on to the winds that came smartly and now rush away via the daily lightning flashes, which strike numb.

Yet we still drill the hugest of holes in our psyches, as we ignore one looming disaster after another. We ignore coronavirus to our peril. We seek to borrow money on an emergency basis; it is a lot of money, possessing the potential to help in the fight, while also hinting strongly at the opportunity for the ongoing skullduggeries that have been characteristic of things Guyana and Guyanese governance. But outside of the borrowing, and some determined efforts at the governmental levels, there is a population still immersed in elections and the mesmerizing fascinations with what victory at the polls could mean. Some of us may be dead before we could get to a taste of what that oil means, could do for us before we get there, just look at what it is doing to us, making of us.

For developments in the world at large have made the oil less of a dream almost in hand, and more of a mirage that enchants, toys with, and then jilts. It could be the hardest of separations for Guyanese politicians and Guyanese citizens, who have gambled with the mortgage (and bread) money on the magic that is promised by access to and control of that oil. And a mirage it has become, at least in the near and intermediate term. For that is what is promised when oil prices, as measured by the leading benchmarks such as Brent Crude, West Texas Intermediate, and ICE (Platts) Dubai, indicate an across-the-board hemorrhaging in the world markets. At $25 dollars a barrel, the multinationals have retreated to contingency plans; those call for deep spending cuts, slowing down of operations, and waiting out the steepening descending volatility.

It promises to be the longest of waits, with this year, this elections year here that is 2020, just as good as gone down the tubes. We are pinning our hopes on a wing—one wing—and a prayer. It had better be many prayers, for the expert watchers and authoritative market readers are predicting less than $20 a barrel in some scenarios. What price that oil over which we dismember each other in this senseless loser of a country!

Somehow, I have not heard any squawks of disbelief, any spirited protests, that the oil gloom is overblown and that there is so much scaremongering behind the choppiness. Hell! What is going on cannot be described realistically as choppiness, since the tumble in prices has shown little signs of stirring, and none of recovery from where they are at present. The numbers do not lie; they are not from Gecom or Guyanese in origin. Overblown and defeatist panic cultivating are what was said, and still being chanted in some corners, including by the reckless and unthinking in this country, about the coronavirus scourge. Well, I would like to hear them state where they are with losing oil prices.

For certainty, I think I would hear and, the rest of Guyana too, that markets are temporary in nature. While that does have some merit, it is unlike that immutable law of gravity, which says that what goes up must come down. I refer to 2008, and ask the interested to refresh their memories to when oil price had touched above $147; now just look at where it is today, confirming that pull of physics. Unfortunately, matters do not operate as well when the reverse applies. That is, that what goes down inevitably floats back upward. If that were so, then we would we astronauts heading for outer space. And that promises to be the fate and state of oil markets in the long depressing months still to come in this year, maybe beyond.

The way I look at things, months are an eternity in this country. Too much betting. Too much passion. Too much depending on the political (and racial) power and the power of oil. Now there is this mirage during the day and nightmare during the darker hours. Come to think of it, our world is dark, with no respite in sight, what with elections and judicial adjudications and tabulations and the sorry panoply of other engagements that drain the life and good sense out of us.

It is said that a wise man, a theologian by the handle of Thomas Fuller wrote that “the darkest hour is just before the dawn.” That may be well and good everywhere else, other than in Guyana. It is where I am because of my dwindling, not yet rock bottom, optimism, I sense that there is no dawn either promised or forthcoming in this country in the near future. In fact, it is my belief that the darkest moment is still not near, which means any dawn to come is distant.

At present, we reach for a mirage; we clutch at inconsequential straws. Thus, we sprawl from loss of equilibrium, loss of mind, and loss of face before the whole watching world. The wisest of fools we are.

Mr GHK Lall is a Guyanese author, columnist and former financial analyst on Wall Street.