The development climate is not right

Dear Editor,

The development climate in Guyana is not ripe, and neither is it right at the start of 2017.

It is a regrettable but undeniable fact that the many promises of the APNU+AFC government on which voters relied as they cast their votes at the May 2015 general and regional elections, remained elusive dreams right up to the end of 2016. The government has been reneging on commitments and dishonouring pledges without any regard for the reaction of the affected Guyanese people. Even the initial steps in the direction of the good life seem to have eluded all but the members of the Cabinet, their cronies and others who have been overtly benefiting from the government, financially and otherwise.

The political climate in our country seems favourable to promoting racial tension, facilitating cronyism and nepotism, and excluding those perceived to be non-supporters of government from involvement in the development of our country and from participating meaningfully in the resulting benefits. In fact the required political climate for socioeconomic development in our country simply does not exist at this time. There is no will, no political or social cohesion, only distractions and a hullabaloo here and there. We must impress upon the government the need to get it right. The government modus operandi  must be changed to allow for optimum and meaningful involvement of the people and their representatives in the development process, or the good life will for the balance of the APNU+AFC period of office remain a promise and be of benefit only to a few.

The history of Guyana provides evidence that the PPP/C government by, inter alia, providing more goods, more services, more opportunities and making these affordable to the common people, was able to move Guyana from its status of a highly indebted poor country in 1992 to a middle income poor country by 2015 ‒ and not without challenges.

Instead of feeding people’s stomachs with slogans, we fed them with food. We focused not only on the productive sector with an emphasis on rice, sugar, other crops, bauxite and gold, so creating employment; we provided food and income for thousands of Guyanese and also foreign exchange to pay for our imports. The PPP/C made it possible for many who now criticize us to own their own homes and cars, and furnish those homes; to access higher education with concomitant better jobs and higher salaries and other benefits. I ask people to reflect on the many other areas in which they, their children, other relations, friends and neighbours benefited.

The government must desist from restricting the participation of the political opposition from participating in the political process in our country. The PPP/C has a role to play. In fact, the PPP/C demonstrated during its 1992-2015 period of governance that it had the capacity to play more than a meaningful role in Guyana’s development.

It would appear that many of the decisions of the government are in fact decisions of the PNC component of the coalition, and several reek of executive lawlessness. The history of post Independent Guyana reminds those of us who would wish to be guided by it, that  Mr Burnham sought to feed hungry stomachs with slogans, while Mr Granger and company now seem bent on doing so today with promises. Reflect on the recent Red House matter.

The government appears not to have a development plan for Guyana. This is obviously a no-economic-plan government. Development for this government seems to be an ad hoc arrangement to be implemented in an ad hoc manner with very little or no involvement of the several sectors that facilitate development in our society.

The government has been putting pressure on food producers in our country; politicizing the management of rice and sugar and providing little or no incentives for Guyanese entrepreneurs to enter or expand business. There is no Poverty Reduction Strategy, just ad hoc adjustments here and there to appease some sections of our society, moreso those of their supporters who have begun to expostulate about their concerns with respect to the present living conditions in our country. And so the year 2017 greets us with rising prices for essential goods and services as a result of VAT increases. Concomitantly, there is the expectation of Guyanese consumers that the manufacturers, producers, vendors, taxi drivers, etc, affected by such increases will pass some or most of these increases on to consumers. As the government seeks to generate revenue through taxation, it is putting more pressure on the Guyanese people, most of whom are already paying taxes.

Our budgets and indeed all national budgets ought to derive from a development plan. Budgets  must reflect the confidence of our people by, inter alia, providing opportunities for the people’s involvement  including corporate persons and their representatives, the political opposition, labour unions, the private sector, etc in the development , implementation and monitoring of the implementation of our plans. The national budget facilitates continuity of the development plans. Again I say that the government appears not to have any development plan for our country.

One-and-a-half years after taking office, the government can boast only of a few at the top enjoying the good life, while the many goodies highlighted in the government’s  political manifesto of 2015 have been reserved for a selected few.  Our public servants, teachers, health care providers, rice/sugar farmers, policemen and women, etc, many of whom are young people and to whom much was promised by the APNU+AFC, have been questioning the ability of those in government (notwithstanding the recent Cabinet changes) to lead them to the good life.

There is not much in the 2017 Budget for diversifying agriculture. What are the measures for attracting much needed investment; for promoting growth and consequentially creating much needed jobs? What is evident are the suppression of the rice and sugar sectors and the slowing down of the economy further.

I would opine that the 2017 Budget cannot take a majority of the Guyanese people a step further to the good life. The government must rise above partisan politics and sit with the opposition that has demonstrated over time its ability to develop and to manage efficiently and effectively our country’s economy. It should also sit with the private sector and the trade unions in a continual process of consultation on adjustments and improvements even as it implements this budget.

Be reminded that in May 2015 close to 50% of the Guyanese voters expressed confidence in the PPP/C to take them further up the road to the good life. That figure must be closer to 55% presently. Budget 2017 as is, is bad medicine for healing the economy of our country. The opposition can play a major role in getting it right.

Yours faithfully,

Norman Whittaker

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