We face big challenges that feel impossible to solve, in our efforts to develop the Guyanese civilization. To motivate and inspire ourselves to stand tall, face the problems, and tackle solutions with zeal and confidence seems such a hard task.

The Amaila Falls hydro project, for example, generates heated strife and acrimony, with the national media, our political parties, the private sector and just about every institution in this country focused on this powerful deal.

We faced the same national tension when Forbes Burnham tried to build the Mazaruni hydro project, which lies abandoned and forgotten today.

Ways of looking and feelingOur drive to become self-sufficient in electric power sees us failing. Today, the Amaila deal generates furious Government lobby to make it happen, and all manner of controversies, with the Opposition Alliance For Change (AFC) now caught in acute embarrassment over its Chairman’s role in the Amaila Falls company, even as his wife, Cathy Hughes, sits as a Member of Parliament deciding the fate of the project.

This focus on Amaila Falls, and the effort to develop our energy potential, reflects where we stand as a people. In the face of the damp pessimism that now clouds our search for oil, Amaila takes on significant importance, but is it worth every ounce of our national energy?

At the cost of over US$800M, the project stands as the biggest development project in our history, and, as Government says, could transform our socio-economic fortunes.

Yet, even as we focus our energies and efforts on this massive deal, we fail to exert the same passion for building our foundation, the core of our society, the heart of our people. We must understand that our foundation centres on Guyanese, our people – not on a particular project.

The Amaila Falls controversy sees the nation, including the Government and Opposition and Private Sector and the Media, all sideline the crucial necessity for urgent Local Government elections.

Two issues now cripple our foundation: local democracy faces a crumbling structure, with communities all across this land lacking management. Interim Management Committees (IMC) seem to be pawns of the ruling People’s Progressive Party, and indeed, we face the danger that these Central Government- installed IMCs could see the propagation of Party-loyal community management teams all across the country. It amounts to back-door dictatorship.

Parliament pushed Local Government elections off the radar, as Amaila Falls swept everything in its controversial path.

Government outmanoeuvred the Opposition, and got the Local Government bills to fall off the immediate agenda and elections are now unlikely before 2014.

This dictatorship of local government causes a massive dismantling of the foundation of our body politic, of the Guyanese civilization. If our communities cannot manage their affairs, but must subject themselves to Central Government-imposed IMC’s, our people lose the motivation and inspiration to develop their villages and towns – not to mention the dire deterioration of Georgetown, our capital.

This lack of local government democracy becomes an invisible, silent plague that eats away at our nation, crumbling our democracy from within. After 28 years of rigged elections, one would think we would avoid any form of dictatorship at all costs.

Illiteracy, that monstrous murderer of our national mind, creeps along as another silent, invisible erosion of our core, the very heart of our nation.

These two – local government elections and the literacy of our citizens – make up the crucial pillars of our foundation. Our society stands on these pillars. We could build a huge energy-generation plant, but if we cannot generate an educated population, we cannot live our potential on the 21st century world stage.

Our society snakes through such a narrow economic vein that any huge development project would ensnare the big players in the country. The Amaila Falls deal, with its budget of over US$800M, attracts so many people because it becomes easy to earn big bucks from associating with the project.

But while we run after the projects that fuel such economic gain, we ignore the crumbling of our foundation as a society.

We must find the character to look at economic gain with a sober mind, and focus on what matters. The education and self-governance of our citizens come first. Our focus should be on literacy and local government elections.

When we see the National Assembly knocking local government reform laws off the table, to place a hydro project there as priority just because it involves a massive budget; when we see complete Government or Opposition or Private Sector or Media silence regarding the fact that 65 percent of our school leavers fail Math and English, their mother tongue, we ought to be very concerned, very worried.

Our society lost focus on what matters. Whoever raises these issues becomes a lone voice crying in the wilderness.

A society without an educated, literate citizenry, and without organized and efficient ethical management of local communities becomes a social quagmire, where anarchy, frustration and lack of rational behaviour become common place.

What constitutes society? What makes up the Guyanese society? What lifts us above our geographic space into the realm of a social unit, a Guyanese society?

These questions become important, but our leaders hardly embark on such a searching of our soul.

We get caught up in the agenda of those with powerful voices, those with capital to buy their way into the national conversation, those strong and able to dictate that national conversation.

We follow along with meek submission, allowing the real challenges and problems that cripple us to fall off the radar.

Economic development, just like taking care of the vulnerable in our society, or healthcare, or law enforcement, plays a crucial role in shaping our society.

But we cannot allow economic projects to dominate the agenda to such an extent that we sacrifice crucial pillars of our foundation.

For us to sacrifice local government reform laws for a hydro project; for us to pump capital into school buildings as real estate assets of the State, while sacrificing the literacy of our future generations: these reflect a mind-boggling lack of focus and direction and strategy and vision in our nation.

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