I would like to start setting the narrative and agenda for the 2020 Elections which in my view, should be about ‘Creating Value and the Guyanese/Guyana’s Values and Principles’. I spent the past few days pondering on the Stabroek News article ‘AFC must give up gov’t post to save credibility, support – Ramkarran’. In the article Mr. Ramkarran stated that the AFC party ‘ministers should resign their Cabinet posts and instead serve as watchdog parliamentarians to ensure the fulfilment of election campaign promises’. Further, Mr. Ramkarran stated that ‘while Guyana is not the same country that it was in the 1960s to the 1980s, and the main political parties have changed, there is one constant: the fundamental condition of Guyanese society for most of its history is the ethnic competition between its major races and this has given rise to the permanent struggle for ethno-political dominance’.
As a Guyanese in my 40’s, while I understand both the notion of the fear and the context of Mr. Ramkarran’s recommendations, which may very well gain the AFC more respect from the APNU component of the Government and more support from both its membership and various constituencies, I wonder about the impact such an action could have on an already extremely fragile business and investment environment, on institutions and the Guyanese people.
I therefore disagree with Mr. Ramkarran’s recommendation as a possible solution for Guyana’s politics and as a possible measure to improve good governance (enable Constitutional Reform) based on the following reasons. In 2014, the then Opposition parties APNU and AFC, filed a No Confidence Motion relative to the then PPP/C Administration, the President then took the decision to prorogue Parliament, these events led to early elections in 2015. The APNU and the AFC then joined forces to contest the 2015 Elections and later became Government. All of these events mentioned have contributed substantially to uncertainty about the stability of Guyanese politics, government, society, and very importantly on its business and investment environment.
Irrespective of whether it is the current APNU+AFC Government or the PPP/C, the time has come for our politicians, political parties, institutions and the people of Guyana to put the 1960’s in the past and focus on how to create value and more value from Guyana and for Guyanese. How can we create more value from our natural resources? How can we create more value from being the only English-speaking country on the South American mainland (In a region with a GDP of US$ 3.9 Trillion and 422 million population)? How can we create more value from our geographic position (with the ninth largest economy and the fifth largest nation in the world as our neighbour – Brazil)? How can we create more value from our cultural and ethnic diversity (so far we have devalued our diversity)? Why should an investor choose to invest in Guyana with a 750,000 population instead of in Brazil with 207 million or Nigeria with a 186 million population? One of the reasons should be because we have the potential to become the Singapore of South America. How can we capitalize on the opportunity to become a strong economic, social and environmental leader in the Caribbean? With the recent spate of disasters from the 2017 hurricane season, there is an excellent opportunity for Guyana, for example, due to its geographic positioning (not being vulnerable as some Caribbean Islands), to become the place that offers stability to the region.
The narrative therefore for the 2020 Elections must be less about how the PNC stole ballot boxes and the PPP/C being corrupt, while these issues are important and must be addressed; in 2017, and leading up to 2020, our leadership and as a people, have to focus on value creation. How can we create more value from the various components of the country – people, natural resources and institutions.
Two weeks ago I was travelling to London through Barbados. The flights both going and coming back were packed to capacity with tourists. Sitting at the airport in Barbados waiting on the flight to Guyana, what I saw was unbelievable. Flights kept coming from the USA, Canada, the UK and perhaps other places. The airport was busy, Barbadians were busy. Taxi, car rentals, hotels, Government services; basically, Barbados was doing business, I thought. What I also saw, was a people who had placed a huge economic value on their service economy and who understood the value of strong social capital to their business of tourism. There was a consistent ‘flow in behaviour’. The aircraft came in, the immigration officers processed, the transportation, hotel and other services were all flowing as though it was a choreography of some sort. I could not help but wonder how can Guyana have this kind of flow between – individuals, institutions and society? Not necessarily in tourism but as becoming the ‘Singapore of South America’; becoming the business hub for the region. For this to happen, we have to move beyond the 1960’s, 70’s, 80’s, 90’s, etc. and begin to create value.
While we are complaining about the Government (whether it be this or previous Governments), not creating employment and it not attracting investment, while we file ‘No Confidence Motions’, prorogue Parliament, have early Elections and now recommend that one party resign from Government; in the same breath, we are saying to investors that Guyana is open for business. There needs to be consistency in our behaviour, if Guyana is open for business then we must be prepared to do business! While the Minister of Business, an AFC member says on the one hand that Guyana is open for business, the AFC Canada Chapter says that they are withdrawing support from the party; all of this is happening even as investors are taking Guyana seriously and are considering making substantial investments in the country.
AFC, APNU and PPP/C, the time has come to create value, real value. We must find other ways of resolving our issues without tearing the country apart. AFC, being a part of a coalition government would require more resolve and consistency, and APNU, being a part of a coalition government would require more compromise.
Personally, I know at least three ‘investment interests’, that are currently undergoing their scoping phase of Guyana and they have seen two fundamental barriers – corruption and political instability. So why aren’t we working harder on these two areas? Ethno-political dominance while it will provide security for one or the other ethnic group it would not create value and the environment for investment which is needed to create employment, generate wealth and develop the country.
We need to forgive each other and move on. I will start the process by forgiving the PNC Government of the 1960’s, 70’s, 80’s or 90’s and the PPP/C of the 1990’s and 2000’s, for every decision that was made that has contributed to the fear of leadership, distrust of each other and is holding our country back. Can we start a movement of the citizenry forgiving each other and our leadership, so that we can free ourselves to create value?
Finally, when Mr. Ramkarran talks about ‘the depth of fear of Guyanese Indians and others at the perpetual presence of the elephant in the political room, the fear that the APNU will rig the next elections’, I wondered which generation he was talking about? This brings me to another point that is fundamental to us moving forward. The understanding my generation, those under 50, has about the politics of the 60’s and 70’s, while many of us would have read about the PNC, our understanding is different from those of the over 60 generation. Our understanding of the PPP/C is a little more experiential. For the under-30 generation, the politics of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s and 90’s to some extent, is even more vague; therefore even as we analyse the fear of leadership, we also need to look at it in a generational context and relevance. Despite our past, we need to find a way to move forward; the world’s economy is US$100 Trillion, how can we position Guyana in this economy by creating more value? I also believe that the next government should be a one- party government with the selfless mission to fix this very broken country.