Land settlements and PNCR economic policy agenda: An attempt at explaining one of the Ethnic Security Dilemmas

In this column, I will continue to explore the rationale of the PNCR’s economic policy since March, 2015. I noted in the previous column that a book on land settlements in Guyana, written by Minister Carl Greenidge, provides important insights into the thinking of the PNCR. We need to account for the economic-policy decisions of this party because it is the dominant partner in APNU. During the period 1970 to 1985, the PNC was largely antagonistic to private enterprise. This was the period of nationalisation of foreign entities, the promotion of cooperatives and general antagonism towards the local private sector. President Hoyte made a complete turnaround from 1985 until 1992, when the PPP returned to government with the appendage C to its name. The period 1985 to 1992 witnessed an open approach to the domestic private sector and an overly generous outreach to foreign businesses. With respect to the latter, two examples will suffice: Omai Gold Mines Limited would pay no corporation tax and Barama Company Limited was offered forest concessions of 1.6 million hectares or 6,177 square miles (Jamaica is 4,244 mi2, T&T is 1, 980 mi2 and Barbados is just over 166 mi2). 

The Hoyte era policies were essentially derived from the standardised Washington Consensus measures of the time. These were basically free-market ideologies which promoted devaluation, privatisation, depletion of government capacity in undertaking industrial policies (no wonder we are all caught with pants down today vexing over local content), and trade and capital-account liberalisation. An astute observer at the time would have also seen several tendencies towards the kickback tax as much as the outward tendencies during the Jagdeo years. Hoyte was able to obtain the outward support of many, including notable East Indians, in the private business community. Many of these people would eventually switch sides to earn rents from the PPP/C after 1992.

The PNCR policy agenda from 2015 is completely different from that of the Hoyte years. On the surface, it appears very different from the 1970 to 1985 period of cooperative socialism and party paramountcy. However, a close examination of economic history – hence the importance of Greenidge’s well-researched book – would reveal that the policy set from 2015 is motivated by the same explanation. The outward appearance of dictatorship, media suppression and coercion are not yet there. These will most likely return if there is an election next year under the same problematic and loophole-ridden constitution. ….

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