Saturday, January 21, 2006


Dispelling the Myth about Guyanese and Guyana

(By Dr. C.A. Johnson)

Since Guyana gained political independence in May 1966, there have been discussions concerning the country’s political culture – ranging from the adoption of social (emulation) principles to social democracy cum semi-capitalist tendencies. Equally, a lot of blame was exacted upon our erstwhile political leaders whether they involved Messrs Burnham, Jagan and Hoyte and/or their successors. Today we seem to have much of the same. In fact, just reading the various columns of both the local and national press, one is constantly aghast at the ethnic rancour, irrational logic and lack of constructive dialogue that exists. Few commentators or analysts have really tried to proffer workable solutions for a complex, ethnically stratified and resource-rich Republic such as Guyana. It is futile and counter-productive through our emotionally charged debates, to destroy Guyana’s image as a country that has tremendous potential, borne of experience and understanding the wily nature of global power politics.During much of the 20th century, despite the ideological differences, social tensions and economic difficulties, as a nation through its leaders, Guyana represented at one time, over 100 other nations across the globe in the fight against domination and oppression from the industrialised North. Guyana sought, through institutions such as the Commonwealth and the United Nations to work, through peaceful means – shuttle diplomacy and advocacy – to bring to the attention of the international community the necessity for non-industrialised states to conduct their democratic affairs through peaceful co-existence; the lowering or dismantling of protectionist walls that inhibit the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of countries from trading in agriculture, textiles and other raw materials in the European market. Almost every Guyanese leader – past and present –fought for the country’s right to self-determination – a moral and legitimate right we take for granted when discussing our usual partisan politics. Yet as our nation continues fighting for greater peace worldwide - based on political, economic and social governance – we cannot seem to resolve intractable problems such as racial insecurity, democratic deficits in the political culture, underperformance in traditional business sectors and lack of social consciousness from a national point of view. A Better SystemThere are significant drawbacks in our political culture that need addressing as a nation. Firstly, we need to recognise that we inherited a racist, fragile system that is divisive in both content and form along the lines of both the British Westminster and the US Executive Presidential style of democracy, which can only work efficiently and effectively if the objective conditions are suitable. There is need for a better system of political and voter education to enable the electorate to better understand what party candidates and their parties stand for. A mechanism should be instituted to ensure there is a threshold for sponsoring political parties. Moreover, constitutional reform is badly needed in Guyana to address imbalances in the political executive vis-à-vis the political directorate and the various arms of national and local government. There should be clear distinction in duties and responsibilities between the political executive and administrative arm of government. While they cannot function exclusively of each other, their tasks should be clearly delineated to avoid friction between Ministers and Heads of Government ~ Departments and agencies. Political parties and their operatives should be thoroughly examined for their aims and general purpose – this is where an effective and proactive media can scrutinise candidates so as to be able to furnish factual information and correct data on issues to do with the country in general. Political debates should be of greater programmatic substance rather than personality vitriol which has tarnished Guyana’s image as a tolerant and civilised nation unlike other parts of the world where dissension occurs with alarming frequency when even the slightest of debates take place. There is also a need to encourage the establishment of independent, mini-institutes, in collaboration with the University of Guyana, to study and advance the ideas of various communities that may not be in a position to access to the largely national body of politics in the country. For example issues such as education, culture, employment, social development, women’s development and youth affairs, could be represented by separate institutions whose work is primarily concerned with promoting such agenda(s) rather than be driven or controlled by rigid party political imperatives. Leaving Regional Democratic Councils to carry out such sensitive tasks is unwise to say the least. These independent institutions could be funded by reputable charities, via a series of programs around community governance and participation in local and regional happenings in particular. The creation of these entities will allow for greater use of talent and resources in far-flung areas of Guyana. This move will help too, to reduce the brain drain and the out-migration of experienced and technically proficient citizens who leave in droves for `greener pastures’ either in urban areas or at worse, overseas. Business and Economic CompetitivenessSecondly, we need to address the economic problems being faced in Guyana. Previously I referred to a review of the so-called commanding heights of the economy – sugar, bauxite and rice. Recent figures from the information ministry showed an appreciable level of improvement in production in these areas. The fact that Guyana is operating in a global economy makes the case of further reforms more urgent. Efforts to raise production should include the technology improvements in both business and industry; the provision of technical, managerial and customer-focused training for executives, directors, managers, supervisors and other non-management personnel in public and private sector agencies. Annual targets for all state corporations and private agencies should be encouraged, with corresponding incentives provided to stimulate productivity and initiative. A system of business mentoring by large companies should be encouraged to support under-performing firms across key sectors. Business or economic competitiveness is best guaranteed when there is competence, investment, technology and consistent market-oriented approaches – this act as spurs towards increasing levels of production and productivity in any enterprise. Government should recruit the best and the brightest among the Guyanese population –both at home and abroad. Guyana needs men and women, including our young and talented generation, to raise standards in public life and improve higher yields in private enterprise. Exports could only be sustainable if the country has a combination of quality skills, managerial and technical experience and an unerring commitment to the process of development and change, and of course, through an enlightened view of regional and international market forces. Project management skills are affecting Guyana’s pace and quality of development. In several business sectors there are issues around product development, marketing, limited capital investment to take a product to another stage and poor data collection of small firms in the country. The Institute of Private Enterprise Development (IPED) is doing a remarkable job in the circumstances, but needs greater infrastructural support. Each of the 10 Administrative Regions should have a development agency that is primarily concerned with business, economic and environmental issues. Funds can be accessed from the European Union, the Caribbean Development Bank and related agencies. These agencies will facilitate the growth and development of cottage industries especially in predominantly agricultural areas. There is still considerable wastage of farm produce and some of this could be preserved for exports in metropolitan market, taking advantage of the current Fair Trade campaign by Britain and the EU. Regional enterprise centres of excellence are absolutely necessary to encourage innovation, creativity and maximise every human resource – whether skilled or unskilled. There was a time when each Region in Guyana established industries; for example, a tanning/shoe factory, as well as a bicycle factory in Berbice, as well as the Small Industries Corporation (SIC) in Georgetown. Guyana needs more of these industries and with the right mix of policies, galvanised by political will, and proper investment, the country can become a beacon of commercial, industrial and scientific development in the Caribbean and the wider Americas. Trained Labour SupportThirdly, the decline in literacy standards in Guyana is a symptom of underinvestment, decreasing managerial and technical skills and poor data collection. I would like to advocate that the Ministry of Education, in conjunction with public and private agencies review its entire education and training policy – by publishing educational trends separately and collectively in neighbourhoods, districts, regions, sub-regions and regions – nationally. Identify levels by ethnicity, age, gender – so as to obtain a balanced and truer reflection of the state of education in the country as a whole. A national institute responsible for education policy should be established to work with primary, secondary and tertiary institutions, including the University of Guyana, to have a system of monitoring and developing policies and programmes that are appropriate for each area based on needs and expectations. Each Region should be allowed to develop a Regional Education and Training Policy based on a fluid national framework. Both the Guyana Association of Professional Engineers and business associations have routinely complained about a lack of proper data collection nationally. Guyana needs to train more scientists – both social and natural – to be able to support the state in delivering on policies and programmes to support the recovery of the country. Essentially, government should examine the possibility of creating satellite training centres in key bauxite towns, rice producing areas and locations where service industries are making an impact on the economy. Both emerging and existing sectors should feed into this initiative. Specialist training centres could be manned by using the expertise of trade associations since they would more attuned to the needs of, and vagaries in their respective industry sectors. Establishing an International Cultural IdentityFourthly, the culture of each community needs to be celebrated, so this has always been the case in Guyana. My parents and grandparents taught us – including my brothers and sister - to value and respect Guyanese in general, whether they are of Amerindian, African, Chinese, Indian, Portuguese (European) or other mixed ethnicity. Guyana is renowned for its fertile culture in its food, music, sports, religion and the like, and this should be profiled among various communities in the media as a whole. Some of this is being done, but more is required. Very few international media houses understand for example, where Guyana is located in natural geographical and geo-political terms, very few of the ethnic newspapers can readily analyse the events, trends and developmental issues in the country. Guyana has much to learn about itself and others, but equally, it can teach the world, especially the more developed parts, how to manage political governance, how to encourage creativity in both the economic and business sphere, how to use culture to unify and harmonise diverse communities and more importantly, how to live in peace in an environment where wealth and poverty `shake hands’ every day.

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