Business Page – July 2, 2000

 National Development Strategy – Time For Action

Introduction

Business Page unreservedly congratulates all those Guyanese professionals and other members of civil society who contributed to the completion of the review and re-write of the National Development Strategy. It is a comprehensive and thorough document. It is a bold and ambitious document. It is a Guyanese document. Touching as it does the future of the country over a ten-year period and in areas that run the gamut from governance to economic and social issues it is expected that it would be hotly debated not only among politicians who but at the level of civil society. 

Indeed this approach was implicit in the speech made by Co-Chairperson Dr. Kenneth King at the presentation ceremony when he said that “ the NDS Committee and members of the various sectoral committees have asked me to emphasise that they are aware that inevitably there would be alterations to the strategy, and changes in detail and emphasis…… What we most fervently wish is that our NDS would be used as a framework for the country’s social and economic development, and that from the parliamentary discussions and debate would emerge a consensus document..’

Scope

No document of this scope will win the unanimous support of all the people. Some may not be satisfied with the absence of a timetable for its implementation or more specific recommendations on the thorny issue of inclusivity in governance. In the one area where a specific dateline was set i.e. tax reform, the implementation date of Jan.1, 2000 is impracticable. Perhaps quite intentionally the NDS did not seek to undertake a financial and economic analysis of the projects and programme which it recommends or seek to quantify and identify their sources of finance in any specific way. 

Ownership

On the other hand one may see this approach as a strength leaving to those with responsibility for implementation the exercise of their own approaches and style of management to a particular project. This is not a document produced by civil society for the politicians whose record on implementation of their and their parties’ pet projects is far from impressive. Civil society must continue to exercise ownership of and responsibility for the NDS. This is no time to rest on their laurels and to look back in self-satisfaction. Indeed the current period is critical to promote and as necessary defend the document.

Promotion

Each of the Co-Chairs and the heads and technical members of the respective committees should make themselves available to discuss and debate their recommendations. The Committee should embark on a promotional campaign reducing some of the more abstract points to the practical level so that the ordinary members of the public can see its relevance to their daily lives. This discussion is particularly necessary since there has been no public consultation on the current draft.

Difficulty

Business Page will not seek to critique this very formidable document but in this article will address a few general issues underlying the NDS and to raise some that are specific to this Page. We will of course return to the document as the issues are debated and discussed over the coming months. Guyana has so many problems that it is difficult to identify the platform from which to launch implementation. One columnist seems pessimistic about the capacity of our human resources to achieve the objectives of the Strategy. 

Obstacles

The document itself refers to the divisive nature of (Guyana’s) politics as the major obstacle to development. Others will claim that it is a matter of financial resources without which the best conceived plans are no more than a wish list. Some have even suggested that it is all a matter of opening the country with roads and aerial transportation. One person has suggested that we cannot develop if our best brains continue to leave these shores and unless we encourage inward migration on a large scale.

Lost Generation?

Perhaps all these are correct and would therefore have to be addressed simultaneously. The difficulty is that some things take longer to produce results or remedies than others. Although some may want to dispute this, in the absence of substantial and perhaps coercive attempts at remedial education we have lost the majority of the current young generation. Few were surprised when the Minister of Education revealed the results of a survey which found that a high proportion of our children cannot recognise two and three letter words. (One prudish wag joked that at least they would not recognise the four-letter word). 

Bold Assertion

The NDS, while admitting that ‘the country does not produce the quality of personnel, in the requisite numbers, that is desperately needed if we are going to stand the slightest chance of modernising the economy asserts rather boldly that the education system has displayed remarkable recovery in the 1990s a statement with which columnists like Drs. Surujbally and Ian McDonald will have considerable difficulty. In the public perception our only University has deteriorated so badly that it needs completely re-invention and perhaps in the spirit of closer Caricom we should be considering re-entering the UWI arrangement which will have advantages to both sides.

Roles

The NDS re-affirms the lead role of the private sector in economic development with that of the Government being the creation and maintenance of a stable macro-economic framework and being a facilitator and regulator rather than a participant in economic activity. Indeed almost as a direct challenge to the PPP/Civic the NDS recommends the privatisation of Guysuco. With respect to the private sector, the NDS states that a comprehensive strategy not confined to companies in financial distress will be implemented. 

Assistance

The NDS goes on to say that approaches will be made to and agreements entered into with the International Financial Institutions and bilateral donors for technical assistance in restructuring those companies which indicate that they wish to utilize these facilities. It continues that government will seek sources of financing to enable those companies in distress but whose undertakings have passed the most rigorous feasibility tests to obtain credit at relatively low interest rates for specific periods of time.

Policies

The document does not address the role of the local banks whose liberal and sometimes careless lending policies have contributed to the financial difficulties of a number of those companies. I believe that this is a serious omission which looks to external solutions to largely internally created problems. Consistent with the general thrust of the NDS the role of the government is not to go out there and find money but rather to develop fiscal and other policies which encourage solutions.

Suggestions

Twice within the past year Business Page has addressed the issue of distressed companies and we repeat our suggestions thereon:

  • Those entities which a rigorous evaluation indicates can be saved should be identified.
  • The lenders should grant such relief by way of interest and debt write-offs that would return them to viability.
  • The government would grant tax relief to lenders on the amounts recovered.
  • The entities would agree to close supervision and perfecting such security that would give comfort to the lender.
External Assistance

Of course if the Government can obtain external, supplementary assistance as part of the country’s debt relief package so much the better but it seems a mistake to develop a strategy on uncertain external funding while the problem of distressed companies is so pressing. This recommendation has to be among priority issues to be addressed and indeed should be initiated by the present Administration as a matter of urgency. This is a common sense imperative and need not wait for approval of the NDS.

Conclusion

The experience of the first incarnation drafted in 1997 in the months prior to the general elections and perhaps more importantly the lead role played by the Carter Center in that exercise effectively killed any chances of its success. There has not been any public acknowledgement of the facilitating role played by the Center in this current draft although this must not be interpreted as an attempt at concealing anything. Like in 1997 the revised draft has been handed over to President Bharrat Jagdeo in a pre-election period but the fact that there was not an outright rejection of it by the political opposition gives some cause for hope.

Dr.Kenneth King has publicly admitted that in hindsight it may have been preferable to hand the NDS over to the Speaker of the National Assembly. This document contains much of what any political party or Guyanese would consider necessary to take Guyana forward. It would be tragic if those who spent so much time were to allow it to become a victim of political circumstances. It is indeed a well-written document but it has far more than academic value. It is for implementation and the sooner the better.