Business Page   Goodbye 2005 and welcome 2006

Sunday, January  1st, 2006

 

Introduction:

The term annus horribilis, came into prominence in the Christmas Day Message of 1992 of Britain's Queen Elizabeth, and was used to describe what for her personally was a truly miserable year. It was the year during which one of her palaces, Windsor Castle, caught fire and her sons Charles and Andrew both divorced. Thirteen years on did 2005 displace 1992 for that 'horrendous' title in the international scheme of things? And then there is the inevitable question, what about Guyana?

For some Guyanese 1992 was annus mirabilis, the wonderful year in which democracy finally returned to Guyana. For others that grand claim is now under intense scrutiny and challenge if only partly because of slippages in subsequent years. It is now more than ten years since we have not had local government elections while the framework for national elections seems horribly inappropriate to our society and circumstances. The elections themselves continue to be characterised by ethnically defined patterns of voting, are fraught with controversy and violence and are far from the popular expression of either a statement of confidence or an endorsement of policies. Yet, despite the widespread dissatisfaction with the system, there is no national consensus or collective courage to redraw the system that for decades has perhaps more than anything else served to retard our economic and social progress.

The Japanese word:

But before looking at dear old Guyana, what about the global situation? As one commentator described it, 2005 was a year in which nature conspired to hurt those humans who had not derived ways of hurting themselves or their neighbours. A Japanese word 'tsunami' took hold of our consciousness to represent the most dangerous, destructive and deadly side of nature. The tsunami actually took place one week before 2005 began, but the advent of the new year brought with it the aftershock of destruction that even as a dream would have been one to be wished forgotten. As if that was not enough the world recorded the worst hurricane season since records started, with Hurricane Katrina in particular exposing the United States' underbelly of the world of the have-nots.

There were serious earthquakes in some regions of the world, while flooding appeared in surprising places all across the globe. Had nature not been so egalitarian it would have been tempting to say that it was poetic justice or karma for those who continue to ignore the fragility of the eco-system, and whose actions pose a threat not only to subsequent generations but to the one here and now.

And despite the realisation by the rich countries that they cannot wish away the problems of Africa for which they are in no small measure responsible, hunger, disease - including AIDS - and regional conflicts remained part of that continent's landscape. As for the world, it remained under the threat of bird flu developing into a human pandemic.

BRIC:

To the dismay of many around the world, George Bush began his second term as President of the United States of America with the promise of nothing but more of the same. The situation in Iraq remains delicately poised, while the terror attacks, for all the billions that have been spent and the bombs that have been unleashed, appear in unexpected places. Centuries after the Crusades, the hostilities still reflect religious differences as bigotry and religious triumphalism shut out reason and tolerance.

China is fast becoming the dominant economic power, much to the consternation of the US which aggressively promoted and encouraged globalisation to serve the interest of its multinationals, while India, Brazil and Russia are joining with China to redraw the global economic landscape and have created the acronym BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China). The effective failure of the Doha Round of trade talks, the stalling of the FTAA and the rejection of a European constitution show that nationalism is far from dead, and we are likely to see some retreat in what had only recently been accepted as the inevitable and inexorable march of globalisation - a word that has lost some of its sparkle.

Guyana:

Even the optimists would have some difficulty in identifying positive defining issues and events in Guyana in 2005 - a year that started with the devastating flood that contrasted the remarkable resilience of the people with the pathological politicisation of the power structures. The nation accepted without a murmur the rejection by the President for a commission of enquiry with the simple and simplistic statement that he did not need a commission of enquiry to tell him the cause of the flooding. Come on Mr President, that would hardly have been the terms of reference of such a commission.

Scandals and corruption surfaced only to be forgotten in the revelation of some other bad news of the same or some other genre. A former minister who was deemed by a commission of inquiry to have had improper contacts for intelligence-gathering purposes with a hitman was promoted, while those involved in one scandal have been rewarded with access to more state resources, and football was given more money than police training. The nation lost one of its true champions of accountability, Mr Anand Goolsarran, the former Auditor General, when it holds the dubious distinction of being rated among the most corrupt countries of the world. The President's philanthropy and predilection for sharing out public funds rendered irrelevant the Public Accounts Committee and the Budget and parliamentary process.

The economy in 2005 is expected to perform better than feared, no doubt in part due to the infiltration of the economy by the increasingly visible illegal operators. The tolerance of the society and the political directorate of these elements and the ineffectiveness of the law enforcement agencies to prosecute them must constitute perhaps the greatest threat to the country. Everyone but the law enforcement agencies seems to know who are the top guns (no pun intended) in the narco-trade, fuel smuggling and money laundering operations - the triumvirate of destruction of public morality, the rule of law and public safety. Amidst all of this, the President and the Leader of the Opposition allow the position of Chancellor, the head of the country's judiciary to remain vacant.

Governance and the country's tolerance for incompetence remain serious problems as the President engages in the less challenging task of being Mr Fix-It rather than originator of a vision and a co-ordinator of strategies. The concept of ministerial responsibility is dead while ministerial competence seems to be a real contradiction in terms. We want to be the breadbasket of the Caribbean and our major agriculture product is under threat, yet we do not have a substantive Minister of Agriculture. These severe weaknesses are regrettably and incorrectly explained away by the brain drain rather being seen as a consequence as much as a cause.

Laws are passed only to be ignored by the President and his ministers, with no sanctions being applied or comment made. Institutions and committees are created, ignored and all but die before recording even a single achievement. The believers in globalisation, privatisation and liberalisation ought now to be wondering why, with the re-transfer of control of the commanding heights to foreign and local private capitalists, the economy has not developed to acceptable levels, and why the government remains the only driving force against poverty.

In both the public as well as private sectors information is hard to come by, and Guyana is one of the few countries of the region without the right to information legislation. Indeed, one of the achievements in 2005 was the release of some information arising out of 2001! Here the private sector is no less guilty and the tendency of leading companies to seek cover from an all-too-willing court system contributes to an almost visceral fear of libel suits and to self-censorship by the press.

2006:

It is not a comfortable platform from which to plunge into 2006, a year in which national elections are due. The portents for change are not good. The two major political parties see a completely different reality from each other while the people who unfailingly vote for them have another. The dice are loaded in favour of the incumbent with its unabashed use and abuse of the state media and resources matching the lack of leadership, ideas and energy coming out of the political opposition. These factors combined are likely to produce results of the 2006 elections which will essentially maintain the current political balance of power. The oft-expressed fear is that the losing side or those who support it will not accept permanent exclusion from decisions affecting their lives, but will express their dissatisfaction by resorting to other means.

A second-term President Jagdeo will be no lame-duck President like George Bush. He will continue to consider laws and procedures as inhibitors to development, and with few if any Cabinet changes ministers will continue to stand aside while the President usurps their functions and acts even more dictatorially. In short it will be more of the same.

The alternative:

There is of course an alternative scenario with the PPP/C losing its parliamentary majority and being forced to work with forces and influences not umbilically and opportunistically bound to Robb Street. The 'newish' Alliance For Change could take advantage of popular dissatisfaction with the two major parties and score some seats from which to build a strong movement for the future. To do this it needs urgently to define its policies, broaden its leadership and support base and very importantly to begin the hard work of building a political movement. The probabilities are not in its favour. Another possibility - though a betting person would put odds against it - is the PNCR winning either a plurality or, even greater odds, a majority in those elections, that unlikelihood being due to its perceived failure to break with its past, unwillingness to confront the ethnic dilemma of the present and failure to offer discernible and credible policy alternatives for a future administration.

Business Page remains convinced that the problems confronting this nation of less than 1/4 million are not insurmountable or any different from those of many other countries. The potential which Sir Walter saw centuries ago has not disappeared - it has simply not been converted into opportunities. However, it does appear just a bit too optimistic to believe that this will change in 2006.

A peaceful and successful 2006 to all our readers.