Time to give serious thought to cooperativism


MOST recently, Mr Lincoln Lewis, the General Secretary of the Guyana Trades Union Congress, made a case for the new Government to give some attention to the Co-operative Sector. He contends that the Guyana economy is trisectoral, therefore the Government must take that into account, as they plan the way forward in this new dispensation. In support of the call made by Mr Lewis, being a Co-operator myself, I believe the time is now to help that sector, a sector with abundant potential for people’s development.
On the ideological front, it is true that the Co-operative Republic of Guyana derived its name from the Co-operatives. The Co-operative Sector was seen then as the vehicle to move Guyana from a colonial-structured economy to a socialist one. Therefore, it was the intention of the Government at the time to allow the ‘small man’ to be engaged in the economy, by pooling their resources for the purpose of engaging in business as entrepreneurs.
As a matter of fact, it was said that the Co-ops would allow for large masses of people to be involved in the economy as both workers and owners. However, based on my knowledge, transition is the process to bring the entire economy under State control.
In the Soviet Union, the Co-ops refused ‘take over’ by the State because it was more profitable, and the Co-operators were in charge. Thus, up to the collapse of the Soviet Union, it was a mixed economy. It was expected that the movement would develop in size, thereby increasing its assets and being in a position to compete with the private sector; it was also expected that employment would have been generated in large numbers, increasing production and simultaneously increasing the wealth of the country by helping in the area of poverty reduction.
What must be noted is that Co-ops are not a Government entity but a people’s one. The Government of the day did not start the movement; it was in existence since the colonial days. Many will argue that at the end of slavery, the freed slaves showcased the Co-op’s spirit when they put their money together, purchased land and created villages.
In its attempt to move along the Socialist road, the Government encouraged the Co-ops growth, and in the 70s it reached great heights. Many of these Co-ops were dependent on the Government for business, so when the oil crisis came and Government had to cut back on its spending, many of the Co-ops folded.
What was recognised is that the Co-ops were too dependent on the Government. It was this closeness with the Government which caused the now Opposition to label the Co-ops a PNC thing, while still arguing it was a Government failure. In addition, this view of the now Opposition when in power neglected the movement so that it may have died a natural death.
But the death of the movement did not take place, and there are many Co-ops still standing as good examples: The Fisherman’s Co-ops; Cane Farming Co-ops; Rice-farming Co-ops; and the most outstanding of them all being the Co-op Rice-mill at Vergenoegen, East Bank Essequibo.
Further, it is important that the movement recognise that a Co-op is a business, and must be run like a business, independent of the Government. I believe those in the movement will have to come to the understanding that the movement belongs to them, and that the responsibility is theirs to shoulder.
The Government’s involvement is to help the movement to get on its feet, unlocking great economic potential by helping to engage people in their own development. This is what is being done for GuySuCo, the rice farmers, and many other entities. So, helping the Co-ops becomes normal.
What can the Government do to give the Co-ops a push to rekindle the spirit of such a movement? The National Co-operative Union must be reconstituted as an interim body, which is done by the Chief Co-operative Development Officer, while the representatives must be chosen by the regions themselves. Further, the Union must be tasked in conjunction with the Co-op Department, to visit all existing Co-ops and to come up with a report and a Strategic Development Plan for the movement for the next three to five years.
The Union should also be given a subvention to adequately carry out its function, while working in collaboration with the Co-op Department; to mobilise, train, reestablish link with the ILO, specialise guidance in preparation of project and project management, marketing, capacity building and institutional strengthening.
I believe the Co-operative movement has great potential to develop as a viable sector that will be able to mobilise resources, both human and financial. On the other hand, it will help to increase household income, reduce poverty, and help our people to live the good life.