GUYANA must take her pride of place among resources-rich nations. Should our resources be exploited in a sustainable manner, they would not only ensure the people’s self-sufficiency, but make the nation a formidable competitor in external markets.
Our unexploited potential gives rise to the nagging question, ‘Why Guyana is not further along the developmental continuum?’ The answer varies and it is not unusual to see responsibility placed at the feet of polarising politics, the absence of visionary and nationalistic leaders and competitive disadvantages of small-state societies.
It is true that in earlier years of independence, Guyanese produced many things. This country had a thriving, though young, manufacturing sector. Innovations were encouraged, facilitated, and allowed. Today this sector is a mere shadow of its earlier self. Though the truism ‘necessity is the mother of invention’ can be brought to bear in explaining indigenous efforts at survival during the period of economic downturn, it is equally true that the nation had at independence embarked on an aggressive self-sufficiency programme.
Today, Guyanese have cultivated an unhealthy reliance on imported products they once produced and are capable of producing. The severity of this situation is seen with the importation of items such as matches, coconut water, cane juice, and plantain chips. Guyana, an Amerindian word meaning ‘land of many waters,’ sees scarce foreign exchange diverted to the importation of bottled water– spring, artesian and flavoured.
Here exists a situation that should be revisited as a matter of national priority and developmental planning. Local production not only makes use of indigenous resources, but can see foreign exchange diverted to critical areas, even as employment and economic opportunities are created, redounding to growth and development for citizens and country. Guyana’s membership in several regional and international trade agreements and organisations should see efforts aimed at exploiting such access.
The ability to access products not made in Guyana does not remove the necessity for self-sufficiency. Where products such as food threatens a nation’s security, as in instances of creating dependency on others, unnecessary utilisation of foreign exchange, reduction in employment and economic opportunities, such stifle the process of development and empowerment.
President David Granger, in his 26th August, 2016 address to the People’s National Congress Reform Delegates Congress, referred to the party retaining the socialist ideology as espoused by its Founder-Leader, Forbes Burnham. It is to the people’s intellectual growth that this concept be looked at through holistic and objective lens. A tendency to view this ideology through a repressive prism retards and hinders growth and development, personal and national. Socialism was the driving force and major player behind the unleashing of the self-sufficiency potential of Guyanese in the post-independence period.
Guyana emerged from a colonial society, where the merchant class was few and primarily within the ranks of the coloniser, inequities and unemployment high, public infrastructures limited or practically non-existent, and a dependence on foreign products. Given Government’s primary responsibility to function in the interest of its people, including addressing society’s ills, that socialism was chosen as its major pillar for development was not an unusual feature in societies transitioning from colonialism to independence. And whereas aspects of socialism may not have worked to the liking of all, there is no denying the holistic benefits of its programmes. This is evident in construction of roads and bridges; establishment of public education, social security, universal health care, soft loans for home ownership, expansion of the agricultural infrastructures and subsidising farmers, to name some.
If a country in its different phases of evolution chooses to push one ideology or model over others, it does not have to abandon any that worked to the benefit of its people. Developed societies in Europe, the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom are not without socialist policies and programmes and of much more expansive nature than ours. It may be fitting as policy-makers zero in on the importance of sustainable development, to examine the possibility of creating the enabling environment to harness and unleash the people’s potential. Such can factor in incentives through accessible and affordable lending, specialised training, research and development, concessions, and synergies among and between stakeholders in our tri-sectoral economy. It ought not to be lost sight of that an empowered people are more inclined to want to stay and participate in the nation’s growth and development, given its intrinsic link to theirs.