AS the promise of oil money pervades the attention of Guyanese, the subject of the prospects for national development is increasingly being hyped by political and business leaders, among others. I wish to point out, though, that an influx of oil revenues does not, by any stretch, automatically translate into development, or betterment for the average citizen. In fact, it is perhaps more likely than not that much of that oil money could end up in private pockets.
This is so because, for an influx of revenue to result in development, certain conditions and mechanisms must necessarily be in place, and those conditions may not yet exist. At the top of the list of those conditions are, 1) National unity, and 2) Good governance. In that order of importance, I believe.
First, National Unity. In his address to the National Regional Consultative Committee (NRCC) on January 19, Minister of Communities Ronald Bulkan said, “After about 135 years of British colonisation . . . Guyana’s progress and development, today, continue to be severely impeded by the makeup of its population owing to historical realities.
“Before independence, the colonisers or conquistadors, in pursuit of global domination, first brought people from Africa as slaves . . . After the abolition of slavery in the mid-19th century, bonded labourers were brought from the Asian sub-continent to replace the freed African slaves. Part of our independence inheritance, therefore, is a population comprising two major race groups who arrived here from two different continents; a natural fault line; a line ripe to be taken advantage of by politicians seeking a political throne.
“More recently . . . I heard for the first time someone describe Guyana as being two countries in one place. An objective assessment would not dispute this. Now, two decades later, the results of the 2015 elections suggest that the phenomenon is virtually immutable.”
Editor, most would agree that the ethnic divide to which Minister Bulkan referred is the single largest impediment to development. It follows then, that for significant development to be realised, that divide must be bridged.
Second, Good Governance. In order for oil revenues to be used in their entirety for the good of the people, there must be governmental transparency, fiscal accountability, and true democracy — among other conditions. In other words, there must be good governance. In a letter captioned, ‘Managing power effectively’ (GC, Feb 8), I strongly implied that the power possessed by the people is superior to that held by both political and business leaders, because those leaders are given or allowed power by the people. Here, I am flat-out, definitively asserting that belief.
It follows that for good governance to be assured, the people must unite in order to effectively exercise their power to ensure that their leaders follow the principles of good governance. That is why I said that national unity comes first, and good governance follows.
Minister Bulkan, in stating that, “[there is] a natural fault line; a line ripe to be taken advantage of by politicians seeking a political throne,” was correct. In fact, we have seen, and continue to see some politicians doing just that. It is therefore incumbent upon Guyanese to reject any attempt to divide us, and further, to work to overcome our own prejudices which make us vulnerable to divisive political rhetoric. This may be the starting point of the effort to achieve unity.
Editor, I remain convinced that the goal of national unity, though elusive, is absolutely achievable, and, I believe that there are genuinely good leaders who are committed to good governance. A detailed recipe for how those objectives can be realised is a question for another day.
In closing, I urge Guyanese – whether in positions of leadership or not – to think about what is at stake. We must understand the magnitude of our personal and collective responsibilities. We have only about two years to get our act together. So, we had better get up now, and get moving.