Even as we boldly
look forward towards the New Year one cannot help but marvel at the manner
in which nature trumps politicians and makes a mockery of men, and sometimes
women. While the Minister of Tourism insensitively asserts that the Main St
Lime will go on notwithstanding the devastating fire which destroyed the one
hundred and forty-three year-old Sacred Heart Church - taking with it part
of the soul of Guyana - the rains came and put paid to such plans.
Time Magazine named
as its 'Man of the Year' George W Bush, re-elected for a second term as US
President, but it is a tsunami in the far-off Indian Ocean that has riveted
the world's attention and captured its imagination. This disaster is certain
to deliver the picture that will forever be etched in the minds and memories
of those who need to be reminded of nature's power and anger at the callous
manner in which her bounty, hospitality and gentle quality are being abused.
These are two of
the stark reminders as we focus on a year full of challenges, ripe with
possibilities and missed opportunities. The year 2005 will not be special or
indeed memorable, and will see us on the threshold of another general
election, a census of sorts, an occasion on which Guyanese show themselves
at their unthinking basest.
The decline of the USA
Shortly after the
2004 US presidential election, a friend schooled and experienced in
international affairs told me that the greatest significance of Bush's
re-election was not the pursuit of a conservative agenda but that it would
herald the decline of the US. That sounded far-fetched, since the USA's
reign can at best be measured in decades, its military might is
unchallengeable, it is the largest economic as well as military power in the
world, the cradle of entrepreneurs and host of the United Nations.
But America is
ranked 13th on the Economist's worldwide quality-of-life index 2005, in
which Euro-pean countries hold nine of the top ten spots - Australia being
the only intruder. America's wealth clearly does not translate into
satisfaction, but that is not where the challenge lies but in the growing
power and influence of the fastest growing economy in the world - China.
In economic terms
America is no longer the dominant player it was only a couple of years ago.
It now faces an expansionist China with a population four times its own,
labour costs about a tenth of that of the United States and a voracious
appetite for the world's raw materials. China is now extending its wings in
Latin America and its trade with those countries will help to sever the
umbilical ties which have characterized US-Latin American relationships
during the last century.
And then there is
Europe, not only a resurgent power, it is also an expanding power that
commands a place as an equal with the Americans. Europe's currency, the
euro, is now not only at an all time high against the once all-powerful
greenback, it is now a currency of choice for Chinese and Russian central
bankers and the members of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries
(OPEC) investing the mountains of surplus dollars generated by oil revenues.
The current danger
for the US is that if not its current debts, then certainly its subsequent
borrowings, which are measured in trillions, may no longer be measured in
United States Dollars alone, leaving it with some serious adjustments to its
lifestyle. That is not a prospect which the current generation of Americans
will find palatable, but that does not make it any less real.
The UK and the Middle East
And on the other
side of the Atlantic, Prime Minister Tony Blair will be voted back for a
third term due as much to the dismal failure of the main opposition
Conservative Party as to the economic successes of the first two terms.
Indeed that country's perennial third force - the Liberal Democrats - may
form the opposition in the next parliament giving false hopes to those who
feel that a Third Force will magically matter in the 2006 Guyana elections.
Even at this late
stage, it is doubtful whether elections in Iraq in January will be truly
national and whether they will provide the opportunity for Bush to declare
'Mission accomplished' with some greater conviction. But expect no further
adventures even against North Korea and Iran.
Palestinian leader to be elected other that Arafat will offer the best
prospects for peace in the Middle East, but uprooting tens of thousands of
settlers will prove difficult for Sharon and impossible without the active
encouragement of the EU and America. A settlement will have wider positive
impact in the Middle East as it can take away one of the lightning rods of
the equally powerful but more recent phenomenon, international terrorism.
The rise of the South
Close to home
Brazil's Lula will provide a voice and a face with which the countries south
of the equator could readily identify. As part of the China-India-South
Africa quartet, Brazil will command respect not only politically but
economically as well, forcing the rich countries of the North to take notice
of the South. Indeed the quartet and Russia will transform South-South
trade, and give hope to countries like Guyana looking for a role in an
international alliance in which it is more than just another vote at an
China, Russia and
Brazil will be looking to joint ventures with third world countries,
particularly those that have not already sold or mortgaged their patrimony
of non-/semi-renewable natural resources. Guyana will do well even at this
late stage to consider the lopsided nature of many of the so-called
investments by international companies which bring little in return.
World trade will
witness further liberalisation as the US finds it can no longer play the
bully role in the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and rich countries realise
that it is not in their long-term interest to alienate poor third world
countries with restrictive trade policies and barriers designed to prop up
their less productive sectors. Guyana will have to articulate a credible
argument for supporting trade liberalisation while advocating the retention
of preferences under the agricultural policy of the EU which gives Guyana
and other ACP countries artificially high prices for some of their products,
including the vital sugar industry.
Caricom and Brazil
In the Caribbean,
Trinidad and Tobago will continue its march towards first-world status,
despite the gradual decline in oil prices. While Guyana is naturally and
ideally placed to be the bridge to the South American continent, and while
it talks about it, Trinidad and Tobago will be actively promoting itself
into that role, planning to become bilingual and cementing its place as a
real powerhouse in the region.
St Lucia, Barbados
and St Vincent will continue at their own measured pace; Grenada will not
return to its pre-hurricane position and Dominica will find adjustment to a
liberalised economy a continuing challenge.
It is not, however,
for economic progress that Caricom will be remembered, but for the opening
of its headquarters in Guyana and the lukewarm response to the establishment
of the Caribbean Court of Justice, so much part of the infrastructure of the
wider CSME which has been in the works for more than a decade.
moved into the mining sector, the Brazilians will finally take over the
nocturnal service sector and Brazil will show particular interest in one of
the smaller parties with which it shares some common interest. Brazilians
will continue to make up for the continuing migration of Guyanese to just
Guyana will move
into election campaign mode with increased attention to the cricket stadium
and a bridge across the Berbice River, with caution and the IMF being thrown
to the wind. The PNC will still not be able to make up its mind whether it
is inside or outside of parliament, and will find it increasingly difficult
to attract funds for its election campaign. Unable to match the PPP's
bank-rolled, Trinidad- managed PR campaign, the PNCR will finally but
unsuccessfully call for elections finance reform. It will also find that the
'R' has done little to enhance its electoral chances.
A fourth Third
Force will be announced while another hung jury will lead to Benchop being
set free. There will be enough crimes to keep the Kaieteur going, and the
Chang Commission will end with an inconclusive, expensive report that will
generate controversy, change no opinion but allow Minister Gajraj to resume
In March the
Minister of Finance will announce the 'largest ever, tax-free budget,' the
tax measures having been imposed well in advance. He will announce growth of
about one per cent (far below international rates) with much of it coming
from services which possibly includes the laundry sector used to dry-clean
the heaps of drug money which has been taking over the economy and crowding
out so much of our legitimate business. The Minister will also announce the
introduction of VAT (value added tax) to applause from his colleagues, many
of whom will think it is something to do with the curing of rum. The
Minister will again forget to tell us whether Guyana will replace the IMF
programme with anything looking like a strategy we can call our own.
Securities Council will continue to be stymied by the captains of industry,
and corporate governance will face further setbacks as conflicts of interest
and manipulation of the Stock Exchange become even more blatant. Auditors
will continue to be poodles of management rather than the watchdogs of
shareholders, lawyers will peddle their clients' lies and doctors will
continue to issue medical certificates for imagined aliments.
Guyana will win the
title of the highest per capita number of beauty pageants, the West Indies
cricket team will continue to struggle as Lara proves that you can't teach
old dogs new tricks and our newspapers will show that news is more important
At the end of it
all, it will take neither Nostradamus nor Cassandra to tell us that very
little will change - it will be the same old story.
Best wishes for
the New Year!