Wednesday, February 08, 2006


Industrialisation the greatest gift for Guyana

A week ago today, I watched a rare television interview with an American theologian whose book on God’s Politics bore revealing insights into the world of faith and governance and also poignancy. To quote an abstract, We remember that faith hates violence and tries to reduce it and exerts a fundamental presumption against war, instead of justifying it in God's name. We see that faith creates community from racial, class, and gender divisions and prefers international community over nationalist religion This subject is a concern to some progressive Westerners, but for the Caribbean, it is closer to the heart of our leaders and yet in our midst, to the average citizen, there is a sense of moral and spiritual decay.

As Guyana celebrates with Trinidad and Tobago (1962) and Jamaica (1962), 40 years as an independent nation, her political leaders should activate a dedicated plan of soul-searching to answer these pertinent questions. Has the country developed since the British Union Jack was lowered for the last time in 1966? Has the economy grown since the `commanding heights’ were nationalised starting in 1976? Has a policy reversal in nationalisation changed anything? Is there greater unity in the country now, prior to 1966 when Guyana was divided by racial cleavage? What are the real prospects for the country in this century?

Guyanese from all walks of life were obviously proud of Political Independence, a new anthem, a new flag and a set of patriotic songs. There was general euphoria that the South American nation that is geopolitically part of the Caribbean Region had won a kind of pyrrhic victory. After 150 years of intense struggle involving different European powers, Britain, as the last of the `colonial apostles’, had agreed to cede self-rule, even though Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica had a four-year head start in this democratic tradition.

However, the newly independent Guyana inherited a servile political structure and a fragile economy that was subordinate to Western capitals. In short, Political Independence was not a palliative cure for economic freedom such was and still is, the much avowed democratic fallacy of nation states buying into a shared expectation only to be marginalised by inequitable trade bargaining and financial muscularity.

Economic Renaissance

Much hope was pinned on the abundant reserves of bauxite, sugar, rice, timber and mineral products as the economic mainstay, not forgetting agriculture. As she was then, Guyana should have been, in sustainable terms, `the Bread Basket of the Caribbean’ and the “envy of the world” in economic terms. This proud national boast was shattered by a gradual decline in political and economic fortunes. The economic renaissance was arrested by ideological rigidity and economic inflexibility, as Guyana struggled to maintain its political autonomy whilst moving to an almost paralytic state of economic dependency. For all its plentiful resources, the `werewolf’ of ideological mimicry threatened to engulf the country’s youthful political culture. With a lack of technical expertise and inadequate financial power to bargain with, the country summoned its intellectual, cultural and social assets to great advantage as a counter to the machinations of global power politics, founded on a merciless obsession with racism and trade disparities.

As the scars of racism opened, Guyana’s evolving democracy was in effect, still born, but this situation gave rise to new vistas – slogans such as `Feed, Clothe and House the Nation’ and the active promotion of self-help initiatives through individual creativity and imaginativeness became entrenched. The Prophet, Khalil Gibran (1934) was quoted extensively, `Pity the nation that wears a cloth it does not weave, eats a bread it does not harvest, and drinks a wine that flows not from its own winepress,.’ to infuse national pride and relevance to the powerless and the dispossessed.

In such trying times, a nation’s resolve is tested to the limit and citizens took on the challenges in one of two ways; by migrating in droves to `greener pastures’; meaning North America and Europe, including the UK and or stay and `tough it out’. Since the 1960s, `Uncle Sam’ and the `Mother Country’ have absorbed nearly half of the entire Guyanese population. Those who remained (were and still) are considered true patriots, having joined their leaders as inventors and innovators of change, with the fervent hope of rebuilding the country from the near ashes of the past.

The Era of Epochs

Nearly 20 years after Independence, seemingly lost fortunes for the country were regained, as a new leader emerged with a profound and unique vision. It was truly the end of an era and the beginning of a new epoch. Or was it? As if in a hurry, the new administration rekindled the spirit of the past, the glory of the present and a pointer to an expectant future. Only the best of the best was appropriate for the country, nothing else really mattered, even though this was not necessarily the case.

In the early 1990s, Guyana once again experienced a change in its political fortunes, as adaptation, compromise; accommodation and consensus were appropriated in the national political vocabulary. Proven to be the new dispensation, the country brimmed with renewed confidence as the politics of national unity gave way to ideological distortion and empty sloganeering. Guyana began to show `her true colours’ as its hard-won independence was being atoned. In effect, a delicate balance was found to ensure a more bipartisan approach to national politics. In the face of three successive administrations with mandates to turn the country around, what is the major stumbling block that prevails in the country at the moment? I have alluded to various possible solutions in this publication, but there are other critical areas that require urgent attention.

Very few commentators and analysts have used their expertise and weighty knowledge of Caribbean and international systems, to discuss at length, the implications of Guyana’s present Constitution, promulgated in 1980. Short of a complete overhaul, it has been a contentious issue for years as critics have often turned to personal vilification to put their points across. They have rounded on the Presidency, often blaming it for having a less pragmatic institutional approach to consensus politics in Guyana. In all this, the Rule of Law becomes a casualty, though constitutionally, the President is Head of State and the Prime Minister, Head of Cabinet.

Yet in Guyana’s present constitutional arrangement, both President and Prime Minister’s positions are coterminous and at times, they practically obscure and obfuscate the distinction between the Executive and Administrative Branches of Government. I stated in a previous article that Guyana inherited a twin political system biased in favour of the American and British model and while attempts have been made to correct inherent flaws, a more urgent and vigorous attention to detailing the changes necessary to heal this fissure of governance is desirable.

Constitutional Bipartisanship

As a nation approaching middle age, Guyana, its leaders and its people should challenge the problems of the country through constitutional means which is really a perfect legitimate way of handling the affairs of statehood. The suggestion for a cross-Party Constitutional Reform Committee to look at the anomalies of the current situation is not an overly ambitious or overzealous act. A possible referendum might be useful to give the nation a chance to debate issues of national importance and serve as a reminder that the country is truly democratic in principle and practice. A constitution that is riddled with structural flaws and historic irrelevancies is a recipe for chaos and confusion, and at worst, the undermining of sound democratic traditions which Guyana must maintain as a modern nation-state.

The management of the economy is top priority and after 40 years of socialist and free-market experiments, the time is opportune to review the cost and benefit of these expedient models. A suggested `Third Way’ or `Middle Way’ is probably viable, since it will test the country’s will to adopt an alternative form of development to guarantee lasting prosperity and stability. The late Nobel Prize Laureate, Professor Sir Arthur Lewis, who was also a Caribbean patriot, wrote an extensive exposition on the use of agriculture as a strategic tool of industrialisation for Caribbean states. He advocated the conversion of the farming sector to a gradual industrial complex as a means of improving exports and increasing employment opportunities for all, whilst generating foreign exchange to invest in national programmes. So then, what are the real chances of Guyana pursuing a path of industrial reform? Does it have the capacity and capability to muster the resources to move into this vital and strategic orbit?

The idea of progressive and gradualist agricultural-industrial system of reform to take advantage of its limitless natural resources and its vast experience and exposure of international markets is absolutely necessary for the Republic. The wastage of farm produce – vegetables, citrus and ground provisions to name a few – could be curtailed if mini-factories and plants are installed in rural areas where a higher yield per acreage exists. The country could join the current Fair Trade campaign in Britain and Europe with support from the Ministry of Agriculture, the Marketing Board and the Ministry of Trade and Tourism, along with international trade specialists and marketers.

Quality processed food produced in abundance and at the right price could be negotiated for in large supermarkets across Europe. For Westerners, this could their tangible social investment contribution to the so-called `Third World Debt’ problem, commercially speaking. Economic Attaches from Caribbean High Commissions abroad could facilitate transactions of one type or another to ensure that a fair balance in trade is struck. A further move can be the optimum use of the WTO via the European Union and the North American Free Trade Agreement, as well as Caricom, can all do the trick.

Agro-industrialisation Complex

While industrialisation itself might be years away, a process of reform should begin soon. Political leaders should seize the opportunity to have dialogue with overseas based Guyanese and their Caribbean counterparts in `exile’ to draw on a pool of managerial, scientific, technical and strategic expertise in every facet of commerce and industry to carry out a comprehensive review of potential areas of industrialisation. The reform should take into account the organisation and performance of existing industries, their activity profile, financial arrangements, challenges and prospects, partnership contracts, as well as a critical skills path analysis.

Preparatory work should also include carrying out a risk assessment and an audit of potential sites where plants and other installations could be accommodated. A cost benefit analysis should be done to measure the impact such reform will have on the economy, especially on the cultural and social psyche of citizens. It is crucial that the audit includes the sourcing of expert views from regional and multilateral agencies and institutions to test their credibility, readiness and intent to support reforms in developing countries like Guyana. Indeed, the benefits of an agro-industrialisation reform programme far outweigh the disadvantages usually associated with ventures of this type. Among the benefits are to: -

Optimise Guyana’s vast resources by utilising the latent skills of every citizen at home and abroad, along with other concerned Caribbean nationals.

· Diversify the economy by creating segments of unique productive sectors.

· Encourage the use of new and renewable sources of technology in terms of energy and allied materials.

· Infuse confidence and pride in nation-building pursuits, thereby galvanising collective self-reliance and trusted leadership in Guyana’s political administration.

· Attract internal and external investment by creating avenues for wealth creation and value-added resources.

· Establish centres of scientific and technological excellences through the profusion of new skills and knowledge bases in each of the 10 Administrative Regions.

· Enhance education and training systems whilst contributing to a larger pool of technical, intellectual and managerial expertise.

· Strengthen Guyana’s bargaining position in the marketplace of finance, trade and ideas at regional and international levels; and

· Magnify Guyana’s quest for democratic legitimacy to be used as an ideal instrument of change towards imbalances between the North and the South.

Every thing has a price tag, but a country’s prosperity is not a great price to pay if policies are informed by detailed analyses, meticulous planning, proper consultation and consensual views of the populace, added to resources from institutions that can help mobilise the necessary capital to initiate the process. Industrialisation is probably the greatest gift that our leaders can offer to Guyana; it remains a formidable challenge and a real prospect for the 21st century. The time for it to happen is now!

© Christopher A. Johnson, February 2006

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