Business Page – December 29, 2002


Plain Predictions

Introduction

Last year this column noted how difficult it was to predict events of the year 2002 for Guyana. After the reality of the year I now have to confess that it is absolutely impossible. This column did not predict the jail break of February 23, the subsequent “resistance” which would see crime elevated to new heights, areas of Guyana becoming ungovernable and a quality of ungovernance that has to be seen to be believed. It wrongly predicted that the late former President Mr. Hugh Desmond Hoyte would retire to his study and that President Jagdeo would write a thesis on “The buck does not stop here – it gets worse”. He was to busy visiting Patterson in Jamaica and traveling around the world to escape the misery of Guyana.

It did however predict that the optimists in the business community who anticipated huge increases in turnover would be proved wrong, that Benjie the Magician would report that the economy would have shown real growth and that that would be disputed, that Ming would continue to threaten to but not resign from Parliament, that Ravie Dev would find that “nothing mangles a political career as a seat on the opposition benches in Parliament”, that Jagdeo’s job descriptions for his ministers would not include any performance-related pay and that “ the report of the Auditor General will be replete with the depressing SOS (same old story) except that the $’s are now greater and the evidence more egregious” It also predicted that the printer’s devil would be very active at Guyana’s leading newspaper.

Year of the War

On the international scene, the success rate was less bad but no bouquets for predicting that with George Bush in the White House it would be a year of the war – on terrorism, corruption and Iraq and on Israel’s determination to wipe out the Palestinian “freedom fighters” once and for all. But in cricket we also got it wrong when we said that “the West Indies will prove that things can and do get worse”. They did not have such a bad year fuelling hopes of major success at the World Cup. Now that is taking it a bit far, don’t you think?

Plain Prediction confesses to a terrible record, one that does little for the column’s credibility and the thought of quitting or being fired – yes, it still happens in the private sector - is now uppermost in one’s mind. But let us see where to start. Like the President let us escape from this God-forsaken place and do a quick review of international developments.

2002 in retrospect

After 9/11 and Enron bad times were predicted in the United States of America. Stifling corporate debt, low inflation, a more cautious investor, perhaps more diligent auditors, new rules on corporate governance, and the extremely slow recovery of the stock market and rising unemployment were expected to keep growth at less than one percent. Japan, Europe, Canada and Australia were also not expected to show more than very modest growth. In all these countries performance was actually better than expected. And in the emerging countries the situation was fairly similar although Argentina, not too long ago the show-piece of the international financial institutions, practically collapsed.

Africa has continued to disappoint and Cote d’Ivoire has become the latest tragedy of a continent as rich in resources as it is in the greed of its despots. Kenya is likely to be an exception if only it can oversee a peaceful transition of power after years of almost dictatorial rule. India which long ago lost is innocence witnessed ethnic violence on a worrying scale against the Muslim minority in Gujarat, implicating even the country’s government. While the likelihood of a full-scale war between India and Pakistan receded quite significantly in 2002, the violence against the state’s 9% Muslim community will do little to build trust and reduce tensions between these two Asian nuclear powers.

Closer to home however, the situation has not been encouraging. Venezuela is in crisis, Brazil has turned to a trades unionist with populist views, Haiti remains Haiti, the tourist destinations continue to suffer while Barbados remains steady and Trinidad & Tobago, which many predicted would go down the ethnic path of Guyana, has demonstrated its maturity and resilience although it continues to grapple with its first-world crime situation.

2003

So how does 2003 look from this point? One thing for sure – America, the world’s only super power will set, dominate, manipulate and change the world’s agenda at will whether it is on the environment, the son of star wars, the World Court, the WTO or its understanding of terrorism. With his majority in both Houses secure, President George Bush will use the year to pursue his conservative agenda while setting the stage for re-election in 2004. George likes war – it runs in the family – and whatever Kofi Annan and the UN might determine or Hans Blix and his weapon inspectors might find or say, America will declare that Saddam is in “material breach” of resolution 1441 and start a war that will eventually see regime change in Iraq.

The Palestinian crisis poses a dilemma for both sides directly involved in the conflict. Sharon and his hawkish soul mates cannot at this stage admit that military might is not the only way to deal with the crisis while those who lead those who spend so much time on the streets of the West Bank will find that it hard to accept a settlement which they had refused only a couple years ago.

Europe will be taken up in arrangements for expanding membership of the European Club by the admission of ten new and rather poor members most of which are former communist countries. As a result Europe will be inward-looking and wresting with the challenge of how to reform its agricultural policy, contribution to the central and bloated bureaucracy, sharing the limited resources that will contribute to reducing inequalities in the Union. How it does this while at the same time pandering to the nationalistic sentiments of the larger countries including founder members France and Germany and the increasingly assertive Britain under Tony Blair will be a mystery. Blair’s greatest strength will remain the patronising friendship of George W and the almost rudderless Conservative Party while his only challenge will come from his Chancellor George Brown with whom he seems increasingly uncomfortable.     

Axis of Evil

While Al-Qaeda appears to have been seriously if not mortally wounded it still has the capacity and the influence to inspire the occasional surprise as the one in Bali a few weeks ago. Terrorism remains at the top of the international agenda with the war against it helping to keep Bush’s ratings high in the opinion polls at home. North Korea, part of the “axis of evil”- a term which only Christian fundamentalists such as Reagan and Bush can coin – will continue to keep the world guessing. Donald Rumsfeld, Bush’s war bell- crier has ominously threatened that America is quite capable of fighting two wars simultaneously which would leave only Iran of the axis to be addressed. Any talk of a re-united Korea is likely to come only as a regime change following military action by the United States.

That leaves Iran of the axis of evil to be dealt with but no one seems sure how to do that. Quite what it has done to earn a place in this very select club is not certain although there are suggestions that it has something to do with nuclear weapons. However few are convinced that Iran poses a threat to its neighbours or the rest of the world. America may find it better to support democracy over theocracy  

Latin and South America will not have any star performers and there seems to be increasing dissatisfaction with the results of market economics which will be blamed for the problems of Argentina. The performance of Brazil and Mexico would be significant for the rest of the area where debt remains a major concern and brake to significant growth. Chile will stand out among the countries of the continent while Chavez may find the opposition almost unbearable but unable to exercise a military option to resolve his plight.

Caricom

The countries of Caricom will have modest growth with some countries notably Trinidad and Tobago showing good recovery after the stagnation brought about by political uncertainties of the past few years. Barbados and St.Lucia will also do better than average while Jamaica along with Guyana will remain the economies greatest at risk. Regional efforts at the establishment of the Single Market, a single stock exchange and the Caribbean Court of Appeal will have mixed results. Hanging will however become very popular even as the level and seriousness of crime escalate. Drugs and AIDS will continue to dominate the social agenda. Despite this lifestyles are more likely to be changed by bandit attacks than by the fear of aids.

Guyana with the loss of PNC/R leader Desmond Hoyte will experience further uncertainties. The “sophisticated leadership” of the “resistance” will celebrate February 23 by declaring independence of the State of Buxton while the rest of Guyana wonder about the effectiveness of the police force. Despite this and the fact that his only achievement so far is the placing of the only new traffic light in Georgetown for a few years, the PPP/C will see the retention of Home Affairs Minister Gajraj as a symbol of their determination to assert their right to govern. Others will see it as a symbol of obstinacy.

Robert Corbin will be elected to lead the PNC which will cause concerns in some quarters and lead to a renewed interest in the Catholic Standard and the Mirror of the lost decades. The reform component of the party will become even smaller as the business class of that section seek greener pastures abroad. The WPA will continue to write letters and issue statements while the larger body of its leadership seeks security abroad. Paul Hardy will surface from time to time.

The Minister of Finance will paint a picture of the economy which few will recognise but will once again fudge the issue of tax evasion, the GRA and tax reform. The Ministries will declare that they have achieved an average of 105% of their work plans for the year within the range of 175% and 85%. New legislation brought into law will be largely ignored while the giants of the private sector will continue to ignore all calls for enhanced governance, a practice not known to the government, political parties, civil society and our so-called representative bodies.  

Meanwhile the country’s so-called sponsors and in particular the USA will take our best and brightest in exchange for criminal deportees without even a murmur of complaint form the left, right or governments. In human resources management, we will be scraping the barrel with all of us rising not as the Peter Principle would suggest to our level of incompetence but as the Sunday Editor says, well beyond. May the Lord help us all in 2003.

Against all the odds, Business Page wishes all Guyana a more peaceful and productive 2003.

Condolences

Business Page mourns the passing of former President Hugh Desmond Hoyte and extends to Mrs. Hoyte, his relatives and colleagues in the PNC sincere condolences.