Scanning our society for the focal point, the cornerstone of our development potential, the foundation pillar on which we build everything else, the critical key that allows our people to develop into a world class society, we come to one answer: our people.
Rice, sugar, gold, timber, agriculture, fishing, and these natural resources stored in our rich and fertile land, offer nothing if the quality of our people remains poor and unable to play a role in the 21st century global village, this Knowledge Age.
We’ve seen this, in the great squander of our rich natural resources over the past five decades. None of it delivered our national potential. We’ve wasted all those years. Guyanese who accomplish their potential had to migrate, escape from this society, their homeland, to achieve success.
What did we deliver to our people at home? Such gross poverty that we rank with Haiti and Nicaragua, the poorest countries in the Americas. Bauxite, gold, timber, rice, sugar all failed us. Our two largest private sector companies remain liquor producers, and we harbour rumshops in every community, every village, in this land.
Yet, in all of Guyana, only two public libraries function: New Amsterdam and Georgetown. We neglect the mind of our people.
Tour village after village in this country and never once would a public library show up, even in our schools, except the elite ones in the city.
Our political leaders neglect the people they say they care about, never caring to establish reading and writing, libraries and adult literacy centres, in our villages.
With stunning stupidity, our political leaders centralize all taxes and State resources into Central Government, borrow huge international loans, and build massive projects. And then all of it collapses. We saw the demise of the Mazaruni hydro project, of Linden as a bauxite project, now in a state of dilapidated disrepair, of the Skeldon sugar factory. We see the crazy management of State money over projects like the international airport and hotels and even our cricket.
We see bitter feuds about the Government’s programme for the Arts and Culture scene.
All around us we feel strife and dissent and rowdy quarrels and disgusting cussing out.
Our society suffers from this fall of our people. Despite free and equal education since political independence, we neglect the one thing that matters most: developing the mind of our people.
We could build international airports, hydro projects, tall hotels, expanded roadways and lavish school buildings. None of it translates into a refined, thinking Guyanese nation.
When the day comes that we could again walk through the bustling markets of Bourda, Stabroek, Parika, New Amsterdam, Port Mourant, and feel the refined public behaviour of Guyanese, then we would know that we have made progress.
Until then, as long as our public spaces remain rowdy, cussing, uncouth verbal war zones, we cannot hold our heads high as a Guyanese people.
Our nation stands on a shaky, collapsing foundation. One single statistic startles us into the dumb, speechless state of our people: only 21 percent of our nation can read and write at acceptable international standard. One in every five Guyanese can read and write at a literate level. Four out of every five of our citizens cannot.
This alarming statistic, outlined in the important Government document, the National Development Strategy, fails to move Government with urgent emergency action.
Cabinet, not to mention the toothless, handicapped Parliament, sits above the nation, with many members having attained super-rich status since gaining their Government position, and completely ignoring that statistic.
Ministers of the Government daily encounter the crass incompetence, shocking inefficiency and brutal illiteracy of public workers all across the country. The private sector learned to deal with our massive skills crisis, training their workers and installing systems that maximize profit. But Government ministers just ignore the problem.
Ministers may say they care, but how could they explain decades of the problem persisting, with no solution?
Several Presidents presided over Cabinet, and failed to mandate their Ministers to deal with our skills and literacy crisis.
We see these Ministers owning lavish cars and building mansions and sending their own children to private schools and overseas to study. We see private sector leaders doing the same.
All across the land, we ignore the fact that only one in five Guyanese at home could read and write at an international standard – in the year 2013, 21 years after we achieved “free and fair elections”, once touted as the panacea for our leaping progress into a 21st century society.
In fact, back in the 1970’s and early 1980’s, the Guyanese nation not only housed the Garden City of the Caribbean, but also led the way in literacy development.
We fell by the wayside, and no one pushes our leaders to take off their blinkers to see the sad state of their own people.
Were the members of Cabinet to walk about Linden, Albouystown, New Amsterdam, the popular markets, the villages of the hinterland, and talk to average Guyanese, what would be the result?
But our Ministers must know what sort of society they govern. So we could only surmise that either our leaders lack the good conscience to care to correct the state of our collective mind as a Guyanese people, or they choose to ignore the crucial pillar of our development.
One wants to look at our society and see beautiful stories to write about, to tell the world uplifting and encouraging and inspiring tales of our people.
But, if one child is left behind in our nation, we cannot ignore him or her. And now, four kids in every five are left behind.
The Grade Six assessment results show us that stunning fact with pure statistics: out of 16,800 plus students, we celebrated 100.
Four out of every five kids suffered. And that now becomes our crucial problem, our national emergency, the point on which we must focus if we want to develop the Guyanese nation.