Can Sri Lanka ever become as prosperous as Guyana?

Imagine if we were to discover oil in the Mannar Basin or a rich mineral deposit within our borders. We'd need to think and plan differently, wouldn't we?

2 mins read
Reports say that Cairn India has invested nearly $200 million in Sri Lanka, but it would require an investment of over $1 billion to build production infrastructure. [File Graphic]

Sri Lanka has been grappling with unforeseen challenges for several decades, some argue since gaining independence in 1948. We were ill-prepared to manage our recent escalating debt burden, which left us off-balance, effectively fighting our way through financial storms and classifying us as a poor nation.

Should we continue to anticipate surprises? We can still turn any forthcoming events to our advantage in the near future, having hopefully endured the worst.

Let’s assume that our future is on our side. It might be encouraging us to make some changes in how we perceive ourselves in the short to distant future. If, as they say, our luck changes and our “wasanawa” enriches us with unimaginable wealth, we’ll need to swiftly adapt our approach.

Imagine if we were to discover oil in the Mannar Basin or a rich mineral deposit within our borders. We’d need to think and plan differently, wouldn’t we?

Oil-Rich Guyana

Could anyone have foreseen how the discovery of oil has transformed Guyana, for better or worse, in unforeseen ways in a short span of time? Today, Guyana’s “magical makeover” entails a new way of life, with new supermarkets and limitless job opportunities.

Guyana, known for its “Demerara” cane sugar fields for as long as we can remember, is now home to only 800,000 people and has suddenly become an “international hot property.”

When the US oil magnates first arrived in this small South American country not long ago, in 2008 according to the Financial Times, there was little interest as a fossil fuel producer. Exxon Mobil, a multinational corporation, has now transformed the fortunes of this comparatively impoverished nation through the discovery of oil.

The world is now predicting that Guyana will be the fastest-growing economy in the next five years or so. This was unexpected for anyone in Guyana.

Significant oil investments are now flowing into the country in what is known as the “Stabroek Block.”

This transformation of a poor economy within just eight years, since 2015, is not surprising. The sudden infusion of wealth has also brought “concerns,” as neighbouring, oil-rich, anti-American Venezuela claims two-thirds of its neighbour’s reserves in disputed territorial waters.

Furthermore, Guyana is contending with international public opinion as pollution and cleaner energy become the order of the day. However, Guyana has rebuffed all appeals, including those from the UN and other countries.

The “Stabroek” Block, located 120 miles offshore Guyana, covers 6.6 million acres. Guyana’s gas-to-energy project aims to establish infrastructure for transporting natural gas from the offshore Liza oilfield to an integrated gas processing facility west of the Demerara River, near Wales.

The Guyanese government claims that this Gas-to-Energy project will reduce electricity costs by 50% by replacing imported heavy fuel oil with Guyana’s natural gas as the primary source of electricity generation. It also plans to provide cooking gas and fertilizer to the local population at reduced rates.

A Lesson for Sri Lanka?

If Sri Lanka were to discover oil in the Mannar Basin, it could face similar challenges with neighbouring India in disputed territorial waters. Moreover, Sri Lanka might resolve its persistent electricity supply issues if it found oil to replace imported fuel.

We must rely on our luck and “wasanawa” for the above to materialize someday. Can it happen? Will it happen?

Victor Cherubim

Victor Cherubim is a London-based writer and a frequent columnist of the Sri Lanka Guardian

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