Business Page August 29, 2004

 Revisiting the National Development Strategy



"This is a unique, forward-looking, creative vision. It is development with a human face. It frankly addresses our most basic social problems including health, education, housing, poverty, the role of women and the role of the Amerindians." These are the words of the former President, Dr Cheddi Jagan at The Carter Center's Global Development Initiative (GDI) Advisory Group meeting in June 1996, six months before then Finance Minister Bharrat Jagdeo presented Dr Jagan with the first copy of the historic policy document, the National Development Strategy (NDS).

Even if one thinks that this ringing endorsement alone is not reason enough for the PPP/Civic to embrace and pursue the recommendations of the NDS, Business Page hopes that a restatement of the objectives and process would be useful at this time. It seems fair to assume from the press statement by President Carter at the end of his recent visit to Guyana that his Center's continued support for Guyana is predicated on the NDS being put on the national agenda, while Mr Robert Corbin in his address to the PNCR's Biennial Congress on Friday gave strong support for the NDS as the framework for the future of Guyana.

Powers of persuasion

To understand why President Carter has such faith in the NDS, one needs to go back to the history of that document, examine its goals of promoting sound resource use as a priority, the acceleration of growth with equity, and attracting investments, and the entire inclusionary process under which it was created and is expected to be executed.

The NDS has been described accurately as a people-first document about participatory democracy within which opposition parties would share fully in shaping policies of the nation.

Among the persons who attended the meeting in Atlanta, Georgia, at which Dr Jagan's quote was made, were the former President Hugh Desmond Hoyte and representatives of some of the most powerful bodies in the world. That a person who holds no governmental position could bring such a group together is a measure of the influence and stature of President Carter and his commitment to Guyana. Among the organisations represented were the Inter-American Development Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the USAID, CIDA, European Commission, UNDP, World Health Organisation, Global Coalition of Africa, Overseas Development Council, Carnegie Foundation, Emory University and the University of Georgia.

At that meeting, President Carter used all his powers of persuasion, his deep passion for Third World development and his unquestioned admiration for Dr Jagan's commitment to encourage the donors to take an active role in supporting the NDS. I recall President Carter singling out Mr Jagdeo for special praise for his efforts in coordinating the process and the leadership of President Hoyte in contributing to the process.

The vision of President Jagan

The meeting was an attempt to change the way development is approached by governments and donor agencies. It also sought to ensure that the policies and programmes were not only indigenous but had widespread domestic participation and support, a point made by Mr Hoyte in his presentation in which he also referred to other attempts at previous plans, including the one done by West Indian economist and Nobel Laureate, Professor Arthur Lewis.

According to a 1997 publication of the Carter Center, the NDS which was coordinated by Mr Bharrat Jagdeo "is a testament to the vision of President Cheddi Jagan, a life-long champion of human rights and Third World Development." President Carter was obviously impressed by Dr Jagan`s commitment to democracy including free and fair elections which returned to Guyana in 1992. The publication continued that "in 1994, President Carter accepted Dr Jagan's invitation to be his guest at the 1994 meeting of the Caribbean Group for Cooperation in Economic Development (CGCED), where his government would present Guyana's broad vision and development strategy statement to international donors." It went on to state that "subsequent meetings demonstrated Guyana's active search for innovative approaches to meet development goals, and donors' positive response to such efforts. Following the meeting, the Government of Guyana requested that the Carter Center, under the auspices of GDI, assist in further developing the vision of a comprehensive, long-term development strategy."

Prototypal development model

Here is what perhaps the most famous former President said in his recent press statement about his involvement in Guyana and the NDS: "Since then [1992], we have worked for several years with political leaders and private citizens to develop a National Development Strategy, which prescribes a future for Guyana based on a shared commitment of private citizens and political leaders working in harmony, regardless of their social status, ethnic origin, or political party affiliation. This plan was developed under the direction of President Bharrat Jagdeo, who was then an official in the Finance Ministry. One of its key provisions was a call for participatory democracy, within which opposition parties would share fully in shaping policies of the nation."

This confirms that President Carter's belief in the NDS as a prototypal development model for this country and indeed the rest of the developing world has not changed. The press statement called for (i) all the provisions of the National Development Strategy to be debated in parliament, with as many as possible implemented into law and (ii) an independent civil society forum to be created to lead a structured national discussion on a vision for governance of the country to promote reconciliation and the NDS.


For the key Guyanese players, it has been a huge turnaround which followers of successive national budgets would not find too surprising.

At the 1996 meeting, it was Mr Hoyte who was the most cautious suggesting for example that the strategy give more consideration to the role of private capital in the modernization of the economy. Now, it is Mr Hoyte's successor as party leader who is the first to embrace President Carter's call for the refocusing of attention to the NDS while the PPP/C is the one reluctant to make any substantive moves to implement the NDS.

On the other hand the NDS has effectively been abandoned by Dr Jagan's successors, replaced by the amorphous and partisan party elections manifesto, and more recently the Poverty Reduction Strategy, a document that is poor on vision and substance, high on rhetoric and directed ironically by some of the highest paid individuals in the government.

Perhaps more surprisingly, the very multilateral financial institutions which so warmly embraced the NDS are now throwing money behind projects and programmes outside of any coordinated plan and without adequate studies being carried out. It would be interesting to learn what President Carter would have said to the modern-day representatives of those bodies he met during his visit to Guyana.

Going, going...

This is how the NDS appeared to have evolved into oblivion in the government:

1996 budget speech - then Minister of Finance Bharrat Jagdeo, spoke of the then evolving National Development Strategy as a major and defining exercise in pursuit of the vision for unleashing the vast potential of our people and the natural resources.

1997 budget speech - Minister of Finance Bharrat Jagdeo announced that the National Development Strategy, which had been unveiled about two weeks before, "would help to guide us in making... choices because it embodies many recommendations that, once implemented, will help us to achieve the kind of society we are aspiring to create." He described the NDS as "a unique and invaluable blueprint for the development of our country for the 21st century."

1998 - Something strange happened in 1998 - the year after the death of President Cheddi Jagan - not a single mention of the strategy in the entire fifty pages of the budget, including the government's agenda for the second term. Could there be such a glaring omission or did this signal the abandonment of the NDS?

1999 - To support the view that 1998 was no oversight, the blanking out was repeated.

2000 - In the first budget to be presented by newly appointed Minister of Finance Saisnarine Kowlessar, the PPP/C's manifesto was presented as the blueprint for the development of the country.

2001 - Mr Kowlessar advised the National Assembly that "mindful of the impatience of our people and acknowledging the enormity of the tasks that lie ahead, we have developed a comprehensive economic strategy for implementation over the next five years. We envisage that by 2006, we will have a very robust, diversified economy that is both capable of withstanding adverse external shocks and competing effectively within the new globalised environment."

What could this document be? Could it be the reformatted NDS? Unlikely, since as his predecessors had said, the NDS was more than an economic development strategy - it addressed political, ethnic and social issues which underlay economic progress. But more importantly, the NDS Mark II was a ten-year policy framework, not a five-year strategy. Was this then a phantom economic plan? We cannot be certain and in the absence of a Freedom of Information Act, there is no way to find out.

2002 - Mr Kowlessar again refers to the PPP manifesto for the 2001 general elections, and for the first time, the PRSP and "to some extent" the NDS document.

2003 - To these statements, Mr Kowlessar added various public statements and pronouncements made periodically by the government.

2004 - In the concluding remarks of his budget speech, the Minister of Finance announced: "From the beginning of this renewed mandate, we have sought to chart a course and pursue an agenda to meet the goals and objectives that we set in our manifesto, and which we have subsequently developed in the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper."

What then is the hope for reviving the NDS? We will look at this next week.






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