Business Page – March 11th, 2001

 

The Manifesto Season

The first national and regional elections for the new millennium is less that one week away. These elections we are told should be about policies rather than personality or ethnicity. The Roman Catholic Bishop Benedict Singh is advising his flock to examine the programmes and manifestoes of the contesting parties before voting. The problem for the poor voter is that of the eleven parties contesting the March 19, elections only four have so far published their Manifestos setting out their policies and programmes they will implement should they win the elections. What must the electorate make of this tardiness or does it say something of the meaninglessness of Manifestoes? And if they really are meaningless why do the parties put such effort and energy and make such a song and dance when they eventually offer their manifesto more to the party faithful than to the public.

This two-part article seeks to examine the four manifestoes made public so far - that of GAP-WPA which was published on February 17, the Blueprint of the Roar Initiative released on February 18, the PNC/R’s published on March 5, two weeks before the elections and that of the PPP/C launched on March 8. With the resources, long history and experience at their disposal one would have expected the major political parties to have published their manifestos much earlier.

The high quality, glossy printing reflects the considerable sums of money that characterise these elections. The PPP/C’s is by far the most colourful but none of the manifestoes identifies the printer and therefore both the country of printing and the printer remain a matter for speculation. In the absence of any campaign financing laws the two major political parties have been spending with gay abandon and one has to wonder whether democracy in Guyana is now determined by the depth of the parties’ or their supporters’ pockets. Surely the time has come for this country to address legally the question of campaign financing to ensure that the results are not determined by the wealth of a particular party.

The first of these articles looks at five issues arbitrarily selected which are considered important to economic progress. The issues selected are: Economic Management, the Public Service, Science and Technology, Tourism and Tax Reform. The parties are presented in the order in which they presented their manifestos.

GAP-WPA

GAP-WPA is a union of the hinterland based Guyana Action Party and the more experienced Working Peoples’ Alliance founded by the assassinated historian Dr. Walter Rodney in 1980. GAP-WPA claims to bring together practically and symbolically, for the first time and on equal terms, the dominant racial groups of coast and hinterland. Their Manifesto is clearly a low cost but effective effort at putting out its policies. The Manifesto seems to be grounded in reason and does not make promises about what the union will do but rather what it will work for in Parliament.

The Manifesto points out that “no government, however well-intentioned, can mobilize all the professional and technical resources necessary to develop Guyana” and pledges to set up a Council of Economic and Development Advisers” made up of resident and non-resident Guyanese. The Manifesto also pledges to create the institutions including a Ministerial Portfolio for development/production and a National Statistical Institute to ensure that economic policy management is located within the country and controlled by Guyanese.

The party pledges to develop a non-partisan Public Service with a reputation for competence, fairness, impartiality and courtesy. The roles of the constitutional Public Service Commission and that of the Cabinet controlled Public Service Ministry must be clarified.

The GAP-WPA recognises Science and Technology as a critical factor in the 21st century and pledges to give this priority by creating a ministerial portfolio for science and technology, to radically overhaul IAST and to promote the University of Guyana as a Centre of Excellence, and to facilitate the rapid introduction of information technology as widely as possible, in order to revolustionise the approach to information gathering, analysis and use.

Noting that developing trends require special attention to tourism, GAP-WPA pledges to make this sector a major plank in its economic policy. The party feels that Tourism, well managed with imagination and drive can be the fastest growing sector in the Guyanese economy, well conceived and promoted can involve at enterprise level large numbers if hinterland dwellers, coastal services, and special cultural, craft and artistic sectors.

GAP/WPA also pledges to revise the tax system to make it more efficient, equitable and easy to administer; to amend the provisions of the Consumption Tax Act which drive our manufacturing sector underground or out of business; to improve existing company legislation and bankruptcy provisions; and to encourage thorough evaluation of the National Development Strategy (NDS) and to pursue all opportunities to develop feasible programmes and projects out of the NDS.

ROAR

Led by the highly articulate Indian rights activist, Ravi Dev, Roar calls its Policy Paper a Blueprint. Roar is committed to building a free enterprise system by Motivation through Incentives. Roar claims to have a profound understanding of the fundamentals of a free market system, which includes a competitive tax regime, an effective incentive scheme and macro-economic stability.

Favouring a federal system of Government, ROAR proposes that the states would spend their own taxes and revenue to develop their own economy. ROAR also proposes the establishment of a Currency Board to preserve exchange rate stability and inflation.

ROAR notes that all of the Ministries and Government facilities are houses in Georgetown. It proposes to decentralise and disperse these by taking the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs to Rupununi, the GDF ground troops to Essequibo and Rupununi borders and the GDF headquarters to Essequibo.

ROAR proposes to establish institutions to develop human and technological capabilities by separating the Faculty of Technology from the University of Guyana to form a National Technology Institute and by increasing funding for the Institute of Applied Science and Technology (IAST) at UG for research and development purposes.

ROAR believes that with the Tourism sector, Guyana can “have its cake and eat it too”. Guyana attracts a different kind of tourist from the rest of the Caribbean because it can fulfill a different need. In keeping with ROAR’s general policy of offering incentives, the party will give various forms of incentives to investors in this sector.

Noting that the tax system in Guyana is not only very high but also very arbitrary, ROAR proposes to establish a Commission on Tax Reform to review the numerous tax studies to propose a comprehensive Tax Regime for Guyana. It commits itself to a maximum tax rate of 20% for personal taxes and 15% for small businesses. ROAR is also committed to eliminating export taxes, the Consumption Tax and the introduction of a Value Added Tax.

PNC/R

Noting that the PNC/R is the result of a political conviction that inclusivity enhances capacity to serve the nation, the Manifesto identifies the need to devise a new form of governance. The Manifesto reflects the influence of the Reform component led by Stanley Ming and Eric Phillips and lays much emphasis on technology and the development and use of the human resource potential.

The Party’s Manifesto devotes considerable space of its twenty pages to Economic Reform and sets out the broad macro-economic objectives which it will pursue. It specifically identifies the establishment of a National Productivity Council, the establishment of Guyana Investment Bureau to replace GOINVEST and the creation of a Development Bank.

The Party is committed to public sector reform through a programme of modernisation that involves all the stakeholders directly: government, workers, unions, NGO’s and communities. The PNC/R will also pursue a national programme in information technology which will be subject to public widespread debate before it is implemented.

The PNC Reform tourism policy will concentrate on the development of eco, event, sport, cultural, meetings and conventions relating to tourism. Guyana will not compete in the traditional mass tourism market but in the large, highly specialised niche market.

The reform of the tax system will be informed by the government’s desire to achieve reasonableness, equity, transparency and efficiency in tax administration. This will include the replacement of the current consumption tax regime with a Value Added Tax and incorporating exemptions from VAT on items such as non-luxury foods, medicines and other essential goods. Other areas identified include upgrading the capital market, continuation of the privatisation programme to secure the widest possible participation of individual Guyanese.

PPP/C

The People’s Progressive Party/ Civic, in its 2001 Manifesto, sees the future of Guyana as one of economic progress, social development, fairness and justice, and harnessing the benefits of an ever-expanding globilised economy.

The Party has identified its policy on economic management as rooted in the National Development Strategy and the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper. This the Party says will position the country to attract more investment, further stimulate our people’s entrepreneurial spirit and establish the economic base for a sustainable development of our living conditions.

The Party is committed to public sector reform by refashioning its focus to one that is more results oriented, improving service delivery through the upgrading of human resources, revamping systems and procedures and making maximum use of technological advances, and continuing restructuring in certain key sectors such as health and education, and introducing programme based budgeting in the public service to enhance the efficiency in the allocation and use of public resources.

The PPP/C recognises the importance of information technology in transforming the economy and pledges to introduce the Internet into public schools to help educate the country’s children and establish community Internet access points for small businesses.

The Party’ Tourism Plan is largely reflected in its Integrated National Tourism Development Plan (1997) and the recent National Development Strategy. The Plan includes the establishment of the Guyana Tourism Authority, the launching of a major marketing campaign to promote a positive image in Guyana, expanding the Tourism awareness programme, and developing sports and cultural/heritage tourism, agro tourism and the arts and craft industry.

As part of its pledge to build a stable macro-economic environment, the PPP/C will widen the tax base and reform the tax system with a view to lowering taxes and creating incentives for private sector activities and export.

Conclusion

Both GAP-WPA and ROAR are committed to a National Front Government and have explained that the policies set out in their documents will be advocated and pursued whether or not they are in Government.

The PNC-R speaks of the need to move towards a democratic system based on the inclusion of individuals, communities and organisations.

The PPP/C speaks of promoting the role of the civil society and decentralisation but does not refer to inclusivity.

Only GAP-WPA speaks of localising the management of the economy. No one addressed the question of a time frame for getting out of the IMF programme. That would have been useful.