GUYANA is a veritable paradise and Dr. Cheddi Jagan had intended to exploit the full potential of this wonderful land for the benefit of its tapestry of nationality. Unfortunately, like the first Garden of Eden, Guyana also had its serpent that poisoned that potential and stunted that growth, eventuating in severe retrogression of its developmental gains under the first Jagan-led government. The first PPP government, albeit constrained by the yoke of colonialism, had driven, with tremendous dynamism, social development and economic growth in every sector of the country, even in the remote hinterland regions – agriculture (especially with the polders), health, housing, et al; but the political pushback was great.
Fast forward to 5Th October, 1992, when the PPP’s victory at the first free-and-fair elections in decades heralded the dawn of a new era. Dr. Jagan, who had seen the decay of his beloved Guyana and the oppression of the Guyanese people with great anguish, had always struggled to halt that decay and restore democracy in the land, so that its growth patterns could be stabilised and take an upturn, even during his 28 years in the political wilderness.
Upon his ascent to the highest administrative office in the land, he began, with immediacy, to implement his developmental strategies: implemented during his first term in office as premier under colonial jurisdiction, were formulations for social development and economic growth that had been outlined in the PPP/C’s 1992 elections Manifesto and delineated in the Poverty Reduction Strategy and National Development Strategy that had been piloted by then Finance Minister Bharrat Jagdeo, after nationwide stakeholder consultations. Within these resided the formulation of Dr, Jagan’s vision for Guyana’s development paradigm, both of which he had delegated to the guidance of then Finance Minister Bharrat Jagdeo.
Prior to 1993, every sector was stymied and the former food basket of the Caribbean had become a ‘basket-case’ and a pariah in the Region during that punitive and recessive era, with even the agricultural sector having nose-dived. Farmers deserted their lands in droves; beet sugar was imported for local consumption from Guatemala and white (chicken-feed) rice from Spain.
The sugar levy had taken its toll on the industry, with re-capitalisation constrained by lack of funds and resources. The debt burden had crippled the economy, driving it to bankruptcy, and there was destruction and stagnation everywhere.
However, Guyana’s indomitable freedom fighter was unfazed and energised. He worked indefatigably, driving his ministers and all those who worked with him to strive for the seemingly impossible in efforts to achieve optimal results from scant resources. Recognising that he needed the private sector — which he referred to as “the engine of growth”– to be restored to vibrancy, he formulated the vision of a trade fair, whereby a free-market system could be catalysed into vibrancy as a driver of the nation’s restored economic viability; thus, under the stewardship of the PPP/Cs first Minister of Trade, the late Michael Shreechand, GuyExpo 1994 was launched.. There was one person who was the real powerhouse behind the success of the first GuyExpo under a PPP/C administration, and that was Vic Nemdhari.
The Sophia Complex was a microcosm of the country under PNC governance, with every structure crumbling and rotting. The land was swamp and jungle, inhabited by alligators, boa constrictors and other denizens of the wild. The timeframe allocated by Dr. Jagan to get the site in readiness was mere months. Vic Nemdhari and his team worked night and day and finally the site was ready; but, unfortunately, Vic Nemdhari did not get to participate in the success engendered by his tremendous efforts, because he dropped dead of a heart attack mere days before the launch of GuyExpo ’94 on February 17, 1994.
The first GuyExpo was organised by the newly formed Guyana Export Promotion Council in collaboration with the CARICOM Export Development Project and was launched on February 17, 1994, mere months beyond a year of the first PPP/C administration taking office.
This first public/private partnership facilitated by a PPP/C government saw private firms undertaking to repair and refurbish and even construct the buildings to display their exhibits. The exhibition and trade fair ran from February 17-21, 1994, and was such a success that private enterprise urged Dr. Jagan to facilitate another one in 1995, although GuyExpo was initially meant to be a bi-annual event. With successive PPP/C administrations, especially under the stewardship of the Jagans’ successor, Dr Bharrat Jagdeo, the private sector has grown overwhelmingly, with manufacturing and agro-enterprises being such mammoth revenue-earners that the blinding smile of Dr. Jagan must be projecting his blessings on the continuum of successes that have fructified from his visionary conceptualisation of a trade fair and exposition to act as a rudder, guiding Guyana’s engine of growth to drive the nation’s economic prosperity and social development. However, the primary facilitator of industry, low-cost energy, which was projected to be provided by the Amaila Falls hydro-project, was stalled and eventually halted by the coalition partners.