Two statements reportedly made by President David Granger in a speech to an audience in New York while attending the United Nations General Assembly attracted my attention: one was an exhortation to members of the Guyanese diaspora to return home as the country needed brains, not barrels, and the other was a description of sugar, rice, bauxite, gold, diamonds and timber as the “curse of the six sisters”, perhaps a play on the Seven Sisters in oil.
Unfortunately, Mr Granger did not on that or any earlier occasion indicate the basis, logic and justification of the call for brains. Guyanese abroad respectfully attend presidential visits as a social event but have not been responding to President Granger’s several calls, in the absence of an industrial or investment policy, or a diaspora policy, or a crime policy. We not only need such policies but also a study to identify the skills set the President so much wants to attract.
In their adopted countries, the members of the Guyanese diaspora have worked hard to acquire their skills, operate in a functioning democracy (despite Trump), are employed in an organised and professional work environment, are reasonably well paid, are not subject to glaring discrimination, enjoy a decent standard of living and, very importantly, feel safe in the society in which they live. None of these can be taken for granted in Guyana.
I would also respectfully suggest to the President to have his Public Service Department carry out an audit of the persons dismissed since his administration took office, together with their qualifications and experience. There are a lot of discarded and unused brains available but unfortunately they seem to lack the further qualification of the right race. Glaringly, this is true of the permanent secretaries under the PPP/C but let me give two examples in which an explanation was in fact offered.
- Mr Colin Croal holds an MBA and served creditably as Permanent Secretary in three ministries. He is not implicated in any wrongdoing but was effectively dismissed by the Granger administration because he was on the PPP/C list for the 2015 elections.
- By contrast, Ms Elisabeth Harper was the PPP/C prime ministerial candidate for the elections! Yet, no sooner was she terminated than she was recalled. Other than gender, was there some reason?
Of course, being on an electoral list appears to have been a qualification for top jobs in the Granger administration for the hierarchy of the APNU and AFC parties, some of whom are paid high salaries determined on the whim of persons of equally suspect expertise for doing work for which they have no academic or professional qualifications or experience.
Finally, on this point: if these short sighted, self-serving, anti-national policies continue, we will find that many persons with brains who have stayed in Guyana will have to rely on barrels from abroad for their very survival!
Now to the outlandish description of sugar, rice, bauxite, gold, diamonds and timber as “curses”. Even if the President did not write his own speech, he has a post-graduate degree in history and must know that some of those very curses have sustained the country since the mid-seventeenth century. Of course there were horrible evils attendant with some of those sectors but certainly not all, and equally certainly, the opportunities for correction were many. Perhaps historian Granger might wish to explain why his idol Mr Forbes Burnham did not rid Guyana of these “curses” when he controlled Guyana with an iron fist.
Maybe Mr Granger has never paid attention to his Caribbean counterparts who even before the discovery of oil envied Guyana’s natural endowment as blessings which have spawned the sectors which he now deems “curses”. Maybe he is over-excited at the prospect of oil and wants it to replace his “curses”. Mr Granger’s statement is the textbook definition of the real oil curse.
Those “curses” provide our economy with growth, foreign exchange and taxes, and our people with employment and spending power. Think what will happen to some of the communities if gold, diamond and bauxite mining – which account for close to 20% of GDP and a significant share of the workforce ‒ were to be relegated to Guyana’s economic dustbin of history. Rice and sugar may account for only 8.6% but they do account for significant foreign exchange earnings and substantial numbers of the workforce. Had the President described the sectors as having challenges, he would have been stating the obvious. But curses, certainly not.
I close by respectfully suggesting to Mr Granger what I think the real curses of Guyana have been since Independence, which in many cases, are being perpetuated and in some, getting worse:
- abuse of power and corruption for gain for selves, friends and supporters, aided by lack of transparency and accountability;
- racism and racial discrimination in employment and economic opportunities;
- ignorance and incompetence in the understanding and performance of one’s office or job and appointing square pegs in wrong holes;
- dictatorial and authoritarian practices, including manipulating the elections machinery, rigging, disregard for the Constitution and constitutional offices and the law, and the insertion of the military in civilian administration;
- nepotism and cronyism with preference for one’s own; and
- insensitivity and arrogance, the belief that those in power know it all and others are unimportant.
An honest and truthful ticking of the boxes by the Granger administration will not only be revealing: it can rid Guyana of many of its real curses.