The current administration’s decision to move ahead with the construction of the Specialty Hospital at Turkeyen has attracted much criticism, most notably from the political opposition. At the same time, many others are encouraging the government to move forward with the process, as the proposed facility is of critical importance in the delivery of quality health care in our country.
But what are the underlying reasons for the controversy? Has the new government done something illegal or ethically wrong in selecting the firm Fedders-Lloyd as the new contractor for building the hospital? It seems that neither has occurred, as the original tender advice and the subsequent contract with the now-disgraced Surendra Engineering Co all explicitly provided for government’s termination of the contract, and awarding to another bidder for completion in the event of failure on the part of the awarded contractor.
If we were to go to the heart of the controversy in this particular case, one has to question how material was the basis on which Fedders-Lloyd was disqualified in the first instance by the previous administration. Here it was that a company with a valid track record for building such facilities was disqualified in favour of a company that had never done work of this nature, and whose involvement in Guyana’s infrastructural development was riddled with questionable transactions and poor quality work. The argument put forward at the time, and repeated again recently (source of bid security/bond) seems to be insignificant when compared to the differences in output and outcomes that the two companies were capable of delivering.
The Specialty Hospital controversy is just one of many that are likely to emerge should the APNU+AFC administration choose to proceed with major works which were either started and suspended, or altogether aborted at conception under the previous government. Should the current government choose to revisit the Amaila Falls project and take on a new contractor to complete same, one should expect that there will be similar resistance.
It appears that the past political administration wants to hog ownership of certain development initiatives started under their watch, by trying to prevent their successor from completing such initiatives and taking the credit for doing so. It is as though they want to tell us that they had an exclusive right to do these things, and that if these things could not be done by them, then they should not be done at all.
The small people always lose when giants fight over political spoils and perceived entitlements. National development initiatives are often treated as building blocks for political legacy, rather than as a right of the people whom they are intended to benefit. The shaping of a political party’s legacy should never assume greater importance than the developmental needs of the population, nor should the self-interest of a party be allowed to rise above the concerns for our own society’s welfare.
It also appears that when political administrations change in Guyana, infrequent as that is, there is a tendency for pet projects and even genuine, worthwhile development initiatives of the departing administration to be shunned and abandoned, simply because these do not ‘belong’ to the incoming administration. Continuing with incomplete projects or sustaining existing programmes, based on cost-benefit analyses and value for the money that has already been sunk into such initiatives, seems to be of secondary importance when there is an urge to get on with building one’s own political legacy. Somewhere amid of all of this the objectivity of participatory governance and genuine concern for the expectations and needs of the populace are lost.
In the agriculture sector during the 1990s there were many instances where worthwhile programmes and facilities were allowed to collapse and virtually disappear. Was it because their conception began in a different political era? When we compare the status of agricultural research and development in the late 1980s with what we have now, one has to conclude that we short-changed ourselves when we allowed technical facilities, such as those which existed in Mon Repos and elsewhere in the country, to crumble into nothingness. Was this because some could not appreciate the value of technical research, or was this allowed to happen simply to satisfy an ulterior motive?
After finding out that there was a dire need for their services, many of these facilities have had to be hastily rebuilt at great cost since 2007, whereas it is very likely that what existed before could have been maintained at a modest cost, accompanied by incremental investment in new technology. In the same vein, we would not want the past advance made in the rice industry to be lost at this time. Nevertheless, many technicians in the agriculture sector continue to say that today we lack the capacity for technical research and the ability to roll-out new developments as we did 25-30 years ago.
The sugar industry faced a similar fate. Significant investments in research and development in areas such as field mechanisation which began in the 1970s, were discarded 20 years later as not being necessary. At the time the legacy that was being built was one of being seen as a champion of the working class, never mind that the long term viability of the sugar industry was being irreparably damaged. When those major advances in sugar were being pursued, GuySuCo was self-financing those developments; today we have to beg from the government or borrow from regional banks. Today, we are struggling to catch up with other sugar producers, at a time when we have neither the money nor the people to do so. As some are saying, “the boat is tottering at the edge of the falls.”
Similarly, other sectors also had their share of political manipulation. Is it by chance that President’s College and the University of Guyana fell to such lows as were consistently being reported? What about our main cities – Georgetown, New Amsterdam and Linden? Was their decay not preventable, or was this allowed just to make those in charge seem more inept than they really were, and probably pave the way for a legacy-building knight to save them every now and then?
These are just examples of how we as a people lose out on development when we become pawns in the political mayhem, and when we allow political parties to focus more on building their legacies rather than on meeting our developmental needs. Should we continue to feel that our existence and progress are dependent upon the benevolence of a government? How can we strengthen civil society so that it can refocus the objective of governance on meeting the needs of the people? When and how will we change these things?