March 27, 2017

External interference

In January of this year, the British Government claimed to have financed the return services of Dr Sam Sittlington to advise the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) in a five-week stint. The Unit had already been enmeshed in a swirling controversy brought about when an operative, engaged in a cloak and dagger surveillance operation, segued into a hot pursuit that ended tragically when the operative and his wife – who was not supposed to be there – perished.

More generally, a raft of organisations and individuals expressed grave concerns about “mission creep” of the organisation that had been established in 2014 on the recommendation of the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF). It was specifically designated as a Police unit operating under the authority of the Police Commissioner but with a close relationship with the Financial Intelligence Unity (FIU), established under the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) Act. In the surveillance and chase operation, the subjects were not even later accused of violating those laws.

More recently, SOCU was involved in a very highly publicised operation in which former President BharratJagdeo, six of his former Ministers and several other individuals who had purchased house lots at a new development at Sparendaam – dubbed “Pradoville 2” – were brought in to SOCU’s headquarters and arrested. The State-owned Chronicle blared in banner headlines, “Jagdeo hauled in” and several commentators saw the action as being politically motivated to embarrass and humiliate the Opposition Leader. Even President Granger was forced to concede the matter could have been handled more appropriately.

But his comment precipitated concerns as to who exactly was behind the political move. When questioned, the two Police top-brass admitted they had no prior knowledge of the operation. However, the week before, Public Security Minister KhemrajRamjattan had boasted that arrests of People’s Progressive Party (PPP) officials in the “Pradoville” matter were imminent. Concerns were raised then about the Minister becoming involved in operational matters of the Police Force, something he is statutorily forbidden to do.

But Sittlington, putatively an “advisor” to SOCU, was also getting involved in operational matters. After his five-week stint was completed, on February 22, at a press conference at the British High Commission he commented about the domestic reaction to SOCU’s operational role: “Recently in the press we have all seen SOCU being kicked about like a political football.”

However, and possibly because no one objected to his intervention into local politics, during the last SOCU operation of interrogating and arresting Jagdeo and other Pradoville house lots purchasers two weeks later on March 7, Sillington was still very visible with the SOCU team. No one up to today has explained whether his contract was extended and who was paying for his very high priced charges.

In fact, Sittlington was more than just “visible”; he now took an overtly operational role to “explain” to reporters the reason for the Police specific action that Granger later decried: “This is a Police investigation, this is not a PPP investigation. The Police dictate where they interview the suspects, not the individuals.” He also gave numbers of who were arrested and assured reporters there were more arrests pending. The British High Commissioner later denied Sillington was exceeding his remit but later was caught in an unsavoury exchange when he also claimed Sittlington had not been “celebrating” with Ramjattan on the night of the publicised arrests that Ramjattan had predicted. But Ramjattan has now confessed that indeed he was and contradicted the British High Commissioner.

This newspaper believes Sam Sittlington and his British paymaster’s role in the operations of the already controversial SOCU is unacceptable; especially in light of our troubled history with external interferences into our domestic affairs, we call upon the Government to investigate this role and its cover-up. We also call upon the entire international community – the UN, the Commonwealth Secretariat, the Caribbean Community, the diplomatic community to condemn this interference in our national sovereignty.

Economist blames ‘incompetent decision-makers’ for downfall of sugar industry

The recent announcement by Government that more sugar estates will be closed has been described as a move which lacks transparency by economist Sasenarine Singh, who believes that the downfall of the sugar industry is as a result of the incompetence of decision-makers.

Last week, Minister of State, Joseph Harmon admitted that more estates would be shut down as Government moved to finalise its options with regard to the future of the sugar industry. “Well, there are proposals with respect to diversification; and in the diversification plan, there is a proposal to that effect,” the State Minister told reporters at the post-Cabinet press briefing.

However, Singh pointed out that the premise upon which such a decision was taken was “totally non-transparent” and lacked “a comprehensive understanding of the social impact on rural Guyana”.

The economist explained that if the intention was to reduce the drag on the fiscal performance of the economy, then the first thing any skilful policymaker would have done was conduct a full-blown Socioeconomic Impact Assessment (SIA) on different options available to Government.

“No one has priced in the loss of the sugar earnings on the national reserves. No one has priced in the social cost and drain on the social security system because of a trimmed [Guyana Sugar Corporation] GuySuCo operations. The focus all along should have been on cutting out the fat from the industry – the non-value added cost, not kill the goose all together to get rid of the fat,” he stated.

Singh added that if this move reflected the reality in the minds of the decision-makers in the Cabinet of Guyana, then Tuesday ,February 28, 2017, would be “a date which will live in infamy” in the Cooperative Republic, he said, paraphrasing Roosevelt.

Moreover, the economist believes that the treatment of the Skeldon Estate reveals the deficiency of proper management capabilities at the helm of GuySuCo.

He noted that the reason given for the recent abandonment of the first crop at Skeldon – that the co-generation plant was unsafe to operate was nothing but a lame excuse. He pointed out that the situation exposed a deep deficiency in the project planning and engineering skills in GuySuCo, laying the blame at the feet of co-Chief Executive Officer Errol Hanoman, whom Singh said should be fired forthwith for “gross negligence and incompetence”.

“Did the senior team at GuySuCo in 2016 not developed a project plan for Skeldon for the first crop? Did they not identify and inspect their assets at Skeldon (their pool of available technicians, their equipment, the field are scheduled for reaping during the first crop of 2017 and most importantly the factory)? From that assessment, any skilled executive will then clearly know what they can do and what they cannot do,” the economist posited.

Losses

He went on to question who would take responsibility for the losses in the field since some 4000 acres of mature cane was now left to dry in the field. This, he noted, is a permanent loss of some G$2 billion.

“So, you see these decisions cannot be made lightly, because they result in billions of dollars in opportunity losses, which then translate into socio-economic deprivation in the local area – the Upper Corentyne. So when the local businesses would have expected a bump in their financial transaction in the first half of the year, they must settle for a season of “beri-beri”.  Who is going to feed, clothe and pay the mortgage for the sugar families of the upper Corentyne now?” he argued.

Nevertheless, when it comes to saving the Skeldon Estate, Singh is of the opinion that “boat done gone a falls”. He explained that back in May 2015, he was convinced without a shadow of doubt that the situation was recoverable, but this was not so anymore because of the high level of executive incompetence and bungled decision-making at the highest levels within GuySuCo for years now – not only under Hanoman but Raj Singh as well, who was ‘doubly worst’.

Moreover, the economist outlined that he was advised that the decision was made to sell the entire operations at Skeldon and that the son-in-law of a senior Government official was eligible for a finder’s fee of US$1 million if he could structure a deal for the Skeldon Estate with the co-generation plant.

“I was also reliably advised that as a precondition, investors want the balance sheet assigned to the Skeldon Estate to be stripped of the US$200 million debt that funded the factory. But anyone involved in any business acquisition will know that the valuation of a business is three-fold – the future cash flows, the expected rate of returns and the net asset value of the balance sheet. Everyone is focused on the fact that the factory is a mess, but no one is focusing on the intangible losses,” he posited.

According to Singh, if the debt for the factory is extricated from the deal, then the people of Guyana will get pennies on the dollar when this deal is done, with limited access to the future cash flows, most of which will be shipped out of the country for the investor, and the equity built up will all be owned by the investor.

To this end, the economist noted that it was imperative that deal or no deal, Skeldon should be formed into its own joint stock company and listed on the Guyana stock exchange. This way, he added, Government would be able to sell 75 per cent of the shares to private shareholders, not just the international investors, but to local companies such as Demerara Distillers Limited (DDL) or anyone else who can afford to buy the shares.

The Pradoville II politics

The Government has spent almost the entire first two years of its term to bring charges of one sort or another against the members of past PPP administrations and their associates. Towards this end they ordered a score of “forensic audits” into the operations of several agencies so as to identify specific transgressions for the said charges to be filed. They even assigned a Minister to coordinate this task. However, in several instances where there were even more pronounced calls for such audits – such as at City Hall or GECOM in the wake of well publicised revelations of financial improprieties, there were no audits ordered. And of course, no prosecutions.

But as the audits were completed and six handed over to the police for further investigations and possible criminal prosecutions, it became clear the government was honing in on transactions in what has been dubbed the “Pradoville II” housing development. The investigation into this project, which was conducted by the accounting firm of Ram & McRae, was purportedly part of a larger probe of the financial operations of the Central Housing and Planning Authority (CHPA).

And it also became clear that even though lots were allocated to former president Bharat Jagdeo, six Cabinet members and others such as Compton Bourne, former Head of the Caribbean Development Bank and UG Chancellor, the inquiry was honing in on Jagdeo, even though he is constitutionally immune from prosecutions for actions taken while he filled the office of the President of Guyana.

The gist of the allegations by the audit was that the allocation of the lots was not done in a transparent manner, the values of the lots were “grossly: undervalued, and that the procedures followed by the Housing Minister in making the allocations varied from the norm. But what made the inquiry into the Pradoville II scheme suspicious was its handing over to the Police “Special Organised Crime Unit” (SOCU). It would appear the police was assuming that the Pradoville II scheme was an undertaking of organised crime.

Over a year ago, there were widespread concerns about SOCU exceeding its mandate which was to investigate crimes emanating from the AML/CFT legislation, when it was involved in a high speed chase in which two persons perished. Reacting to these concerns, the Minister of Public Security introduced an amendment to the GPF’s Standing Order No. 62, which concretised the expansion of SOCU’s mandate.

The criminal activities outside of terrorism and money laundering which were outlined in the amendment were: participation in an organised criminal group and racketeering; trafficking in human beings and migrant smuggling; sexual exploitation, including the sexual exploitation of children; illicit trafficking in narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances; illicit arms and ammunition trafficking; corruption and bribery; fraud; counterfeiting and piracy of products; environmental crimes; murder; grievous bodily harm; kidnapping, illegal restraint and hostage taking; robbery or theft; smuggling; extortion; forgery; piracy; insider trading and market manipulation; tax evasion; and gold smuggling.

But there was no indication that it was authorised to investigate the “misfeasance” which the forensic audit claimed had been committed by the allotees of Pradoville II. And yet SOCU was given the job even though it was aided by a supposed British “expert” who was brought in. The suspicion that SOCU was a special unit to intimidate the PPP in general and Jagdeo in particular was brought out when SOCU claimed it was gathering evidence to lay charges. Experts asked at that point why were the Cabinet members and other individuals not being questioned. Today we have the answer: in very dramatic fashion they were arrested in a manner designed to make it a public spectacle and to humiliate them.

Another significant revelation was made when Asst Commissioner David Ramnarine, who is supposed to be overseeing SOCU, admitted he did not know the arrests were being made, even though last week Minister of Public Security revealed that arrests were imminent.

Why is SOCU still exceeding its mandate under political direction?

The Yankee dollar

As the dispute continues as to whether or not there is actually a shortage of US currency available In Guyana, the Economist ran a very interesting article one week ago that reminds us of the critical role the American currency plays in anchoring the economy of the world, including ours. As the title, “Donald Trump and the dollar standard” suggests, the volatile United States (US) President may also affect the volatility of that standard and consequently the world’s economy.

Directly after World War II, when the World Bank and IMF were founded to coordinate the world economy, the US dollar, which was pegged to the price of gold, became the reserve currency, even as the US had to keep the requisite quantity of gold to “back” its currency. But in 1970, when the US, under pressure, unhitched the dollar from gold, countries increasingly began to keep their reserves in dollars – which are never kept in the banks of the individual countries, but in the US Federal and “correspondent” US banks. This is done as a hedge against volatility swings on the premise that with the US being the dominant economy in the world, it would be least affected by uncertainties.

Presently, almost US$10 trillion of debt is also denominated in dollars – rising exponentially from the US$1 trillion in 1980. The use of the dollar as a reserve currency and to denominate debt gives the US not only great power over the world’s economy, in that its fiscal and monetary policies ripple through almost every other economy, but also it can finance almost any amount of fiscal deficits since the paper it prints and calls “dollars” are automatically accepted for goods and services by the rest of the world. The latter, from this perspective, is financing America’s debts.

The Economist’s article offers a perspective on another topic that has surfaced recently in the ‘foreign currency shortage row’: exchange rate controls. At the time of the establishment of the Breton Woods financial institutions, about 40 per cent of countries had capital controls, but this grew to over 50 per cent by the 1980’s, which is remarkable when one considers that the number of countries had doubled through decolonisation in the same period. But from the 1980’s when the Washington Consensus insisted on liberalisation of financial markets, countries with capital controls plummeted down to about 12 per cent. This was accompanied by the comparable exponential increase of foreign reserves – especially denominated in United States Dollars – held by the “liberalised” economies. But in the last two years, there has been a mirror image increase in countries with exchange controls and decrease in the volume of foreign reserves. Guyana should take notice of this move to stabilise exchange rates via controls, rather than reserves.

The Economist highlighted that in light of Donald Trump’s declaration, his administration intends to “put America first”, especially in returning “production” to US shores. While on one hand some may feel that the US is getting a free ride to import foreign goods with the pieces of paper it prints, this – as we have seen – is not viewed kindly by domestic manufacturers and their work force. They point out that it is not “the US” that is gaining, but the one per cent.

It is feared that if Trump goes ahead with his promise to cut taxes and increase domestic spending massively, this may lead to inflation that would make the US reserves and dollar-denominated foreign debt less attractive and lead to an exodus that can threaten the entire global economy. Alternately, or in tandem, countries may decide to abandon the dollar as their hedge against volatility and impose tariffs and capital controls to perform that function as in the past. In either scenario, small countries like Guyana, which depend of global free trade, could be crushed.

Another more benign scenario could be the role of a reserve currency becoming shared by other currencies such as the Chinese Yuan. China had already declared it is willing to step in.

 

Guyanese Diaspora?

The University of Guyana (UG) announced that it will host its inaugural “Diaspora Engagement Conference” from July 23-28, 2017, under the theme ‘Dreaming Diaspora Engagement, Doing Diaspora Engagement’.

More specifically, it claims the Conference would provide the platform to develop a diaspora engagement strategy that would inform the work of the first “Caribbean Diaspora Engagement Centre” which will be launched during the conference.

But in that statement, there are several ambiguities that need to be clarified. While the conference claims to be an “inaugural” one, it followed several engagements initiated by the new Vice Chancellor (VC) Ivelaw Griffith that also invoked the ‘diaspora’ theme. One of these was a “Renaissance Weekend” last September in New York City, to which the VC flew up with a large delegation of 13 from UG to represent the “UG Renaissance” in order to “friend and fund raise”.

It would appear the idea of a “diaspora engagement” was already in the air since in the UG Magazine “Renaissance”, following the inaugural one, it was reported: “One of the bold objectives of this Renaissance project was to facilitate tangible Diaspora Support Engagement in four critical academic areas: Technology (Architecture, Civil Engineering, and Electrical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering), Health Sciences (Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy, Dentistry, Optometry, Medical Technology), Natural Sciences (Biology, Chemistry, Computer Science, Mathematics, Physics, Statistics), and Law.”

On the team’s return, the VC dubbed the trip to the diaspora a “success”, especially as it related to the above mentioned assistance and what it foreshadowed: “The Renaissance weekend in New York has set the stage for considerable financial, human capital and technical assistance to our university by providing structure to Guyanese and other nationals in the diaspora to support critical areas of need.” However, when the financial details were revealed, it turned out that while G$2,019,950 was secured through contributions from the diaspora, G$4,366,024 was spent on the expenses of the team. There were cries of protests from some staff, especially against the background of an increase in student fees and the presentation of UG’s largest budget ever – G$5.2 billion for financial year 2017, of which G$3.0 billion was earmarked for recurrent expenditure, versus G$2.2 billion for capital works.

The main reason for mentioning the previous expensive engagement to stimulate engagement with the diaspora is that the present “inaugural” Conference seems to have completely ignored the achievements mentioned above from the September 2016 engagement, since they relate to the core raison d’etre of UG. The attention of the VC appears to have expanded without consolidating the initial claimed gains: “the Conference will contribute to the development of diaspora policy and a framework to effectively attract direct diaspora investment and engage the diaspora in nation building.”

If the “success” of the first foray into “diaspora engagement” is anything to go by, one must be concerned about this expanded initiative with three components – an academic symposium, a business forum and community engagement.

This concern is heightened by the further ambiguity about exactly which “diaspora” the organisers have in mind, since the announcement speaks of establishing a “Caribbean Diaspora Engagement Centre”. The word “diaspora” means “to scatter about” and refers to people who leave their homeland and maintain some sort of identification with that homeland when they migrate, voluntarily or as in the paradigmatic Jewish instance, involuntarily to other lands.

The question that arises is whether UG and its VC are targeting the “Caribbean diaspora” or the “Guyanese diaspora”. If it is the former, is it the entire Caribbean diaspora as represented, say, by the nations of Caricom, or only the Anglophone Caribbean. And even if it is the latter, is it realistic to expect Jamaicans or Bajans to become part of a group intended to spur “engagement” in, for instance, the “community engagement” component of the Conference. This, the release claimed will, “focus on building relationships with key stakeholders, such as diaspora community leaders, governments and hometown associations.”

If we are not clear about our destination how will we ever get there?

End of Indian Indentureship

As we wrote last year, March 10th will mark 100 years since Governor-General Hardinge of the Government of India issued an order ordering the cessation of shipments of Indentured Indians to Guyana, the West Indies and Fiji. And to mark this seminal event, commemorative events are being organised in each of these locales to allow the descendants of those immigrants to reflect upon their past from the perspective of their present, with an eye towards charting a course to their future.
In Guyana, most of the groups that work in the Indian-Guyanese community, culturally, socially, religiously, etc, have made a laudatory and successful attempt to coordinate the timings and locales of their events so that clashes are minimised. This will ensure that as many Guyanese as possible have the opportunity to participate by their presence. I do not want to pre-empt the official calendar of events that will be released soon save to say that March is practically booked for the entire month.
I can speak about one event I am involved with the youths of the Hindus for Selfless Service (HSS) who have chosen to host a mass event on the West Coast of Demerara on “INDIAN ABOLITION DAY 100: End of Indian Indentureship”. They are collaborating with the umbrella group, “Guyana Indian Immigration Abolition Association”, that is also sponsoring an Arts Exhibition and a Symposium. Rhyaan Shah is involved with this initiative.
The HSS/GIIAA group plan to utilise the “Mela” form of collective activity – “Mela” means “gathering” in Sanskrit – to bring together Guyanese on this special day. They will adapt their Mela, however, to their theme of “Examining the history of Indian Indentureship; confronting the challenges of the present to create a bright future”. The “Mela” or fair was a feature of 19th Century village India and was the site from where a large number of individuals were enticed by the “Arkatiyas” (“Recruiters”) to emigrate to become plantation labourers in so many countries. The group will be recreating the phenomenon by deploying actors as modern-day arkatiyas.
One of the survival mechanisms of the Indian immigrants was to exchange their right of a return passage to India for small plots of lands on which they planted rice. The land was invariably worth less than the return passage, but they accepted the exchange since they would have by then made the decision to remain in Guyana. This crop was first cultivated commercially at Plantation Edinburg on the West Coast of Demerara. The group plans to demonstrate the early method of rice cultivation where stalks of paddy were first cultivated in a small “biyari” and then transplanted laboriously by hand to the “rice beds”. Today, the rice industry – which includes the milling, packaging and shipping of rice – is the largest employer in Guyana and brings in huge amounts of foreign currency.
The Mela will also illustrate the harsh times into which the industry that brought the Indians to Guyana, sugar, has fallen. The closure of the factory at Leonora and Versailles was quite traumatic during the 1970s. But the sudden closure of Wales appears to be replicating the harsh conditions of life during indentureship and they hope to bring some youths from that Plantation to illustrate their plight in skits, song and dance. Special songs have been composed for the occasion.
They also intend to illustrate the other Indian contributions to Guyana, which in addition to saving the sugar industry and creating the rice industry can be seen in jewellery, foods, clothing, religion (Hinduism and Islam), sports, arts and crafts, music, business, entrepreneurship in forestry products, multi-culturalism, movies, etc. As far as possible, booths will be dedicated to these activities. It is interesting that CheddiJagan, who played a critical role in bringing Indians into modern politics, was born and died in March. He, along with other Indian leaders such as Jang Bahadur Sings, will be commemorated in one booth.
But the dark underside of Indian life in Guyana will also be illustrated: booths dealing with the social problems of Indian Guyanese – suicide and alcoholism – will distribute pamphlets and offer suggestions for institutionalised approaches. As they say, come one, come all on March 5th. Venue to be announced.

By Ravi Dev

Diasporas and development

It may, or may not, have been coincidental, but at the same time the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) coalition Government announced plans to mobilise and engage the “Guyanese Diaspora” to aid in the development of Guyana, India was hosting its 14th “Pravasi Bharatiya Divas” (PBD) – Overseas Indian Day. Launched in 2003, the 2017 iteration brought over 6000 delegates drawn from 64 countries to India’s IT capital, Bengaluru – which was so recently “Banglore”.

The emblematic “Diaspora” had been formed out of their dispersal of the Jewish people subsequent to their conquest thousands of years ago, when most had been driven into slavery to Babylon and Egypt. In more modern times, the process was not much different for several other “peoples”. Between the 16th and 19th century, two sets of “diasporas” were formed when millions of Africans were snatched from their native lands by Europeans and shipped to the “New World” as slaves – Africans and Europeans of several nationalities.

Following the abolition of slavery in the 19th century, Portuguese, Indians, Chinese and some other groups were shipped as “indentured labour”. The shipments of Indians and Chinese created two new Diasporas that become very significant because of their numbers. Intellectuals from people of African descent – from the USA, the West Indies and Africa – were the first to organise their Diaspora and launched the 1st Pan-African Congress in 1900.

When the 5th Pan-African Congress was held in Manchester in 1945 at the end of WWII, the individuals who were to become leaders in the struggle for independence – such as Eric Williams of Trinidad and Tobago and Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya and Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana – honed a common strategy for their countries, which included a strong development component. As a matter of fact, several West Indian intellectuals, including George Padmore, repatriated themselves to the emerging independent countries in Africa, to assist in their development. Walter Rodney, who had helped craft the agenda for the 7th Pan-African Congress, had evidently decided to return to Africa after the People’s National Congress Government targeted him in 1979.

The successive governments of post-Mao China much more self-consciously mobilised its Diaspora and very successfully tapped into the skills and resources in its drive for development starting in the 1980’s. In 1989, Non-Resident Indians (NRI’s) – who were mere mostly first generation immigrants to the USA – organised the “First Global Organisation of People of Indian Origin” (GOPIO) in New York City to bring together the Indian Diaspora.

But it exposed a new problematic – the descendants of those Indians who had been “exported” in the 19th and early 20th century to European colonies, were now part of secondary diasporas and had some different concerns from the NRI’s – particularly when it came to the “development” of India. The NRI’s generally were focused on increasing their business contacts with India and within their community in the USA, while the “Girmityas” – those arising from the “agreement” of bound labour – were focused on the development of their “new” homelands, and in maintaining cultural links with India.

When the Government of India initiated the annual PBD in 2003, it attempted to accommodate both imperatives – the drive for India’s development by harnessing the skills and resources of its Diaspora and the desire for cultural contacts of the latter. With the advent of the new Government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, a decision was made to host the event biennially, and to have preparatory structured meetings and discussions in New Delhi with representatives of the Diaspora on identified subject areas.

PBD 2017 demonstrated the success of this new strategy when in the course of three days, the separate day for youths, and the sessions following the plenary gathering addressed by PM Modi allowed the entire Diaspora to express themselves both to each other and to the Government of India.

For Guyana, the experience of its delegates to PBD should be tapped to facilitate its own aspirations to tap into its Diaspora.

 

The hope that unites us

The reaction to President David Granger’s attempt to seize Red House and evict the Cheddi Jagan Research

RYHAAN SHAH

RYHAAN SHAH

Centre signals that there is still hope for Guyana.

Criticisms about the highhanded manner in which the move was done have come from across party and ethnic lines and signify that there is still a body of decency among the common citizenry. The thuggery and hooliganism that accompanied the revocation of the lease agreement reminded too many of us who lived through the Burnham era of that dark past; and that many are willing to state their positions fearlessly in the press, bears out that there is an active civil society who will not let Guyana return to that darkness. Not without a fight anyway and this should give Granger and the People’s National Congress (PNC) pause.

Attorney and former People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Executive Member Ralph Ramkarran branded the attempted seizure of the Red House property “the height of executive lawlessness”. This was a major component of Burnham’s style of conducting State business when party paramountcy prevailed over every facet of our lives.

Political commentator Ramon Gaskin stated that the tearing down of the Cheddi Jagan Research Centre sign took us back to “the bullysim of the PNC”.

Stabroek News’ columnist Allan Fenty in a letter to the media appraised the move by Granger as being more “political than legal” and, in another letter to the press, accountant Nigel Hinds condemned the attempted seizure and stated that the Granger Government is acting “as if we are two nations with two destinies”.

Crises can act as a consolidatory force to bring opposing sides together and the reaction to the Red House move, if the revocation was intended to test the waters, should place the Granger Government on notice that Guyanese across the board are not going to allow our country to be dragged back to a Burnhamist past.

The Burnham era was a product of the Cold War. He was kept in power because it suited America’s interests and in these international power plays it mattered little that our country was destroyed in the process. Guyana has not yet recovered from that period of executive lawlessness, mismanagement, corruption, racism and wholesale destruction because in its 23-year governance, the PPP/C made its own grave missteps and became as haughty and arrogant.

Because the PPP/C has lost the moral high ground, the current crop of PNC parliamentarians and sycophants like to use their wrongs as justification for their own wrongdoings. There is that old saying that two wrongs never make a right and it sums up the impasse that currently obtains with parties and politicians who refuse to use their good offices to lift Guyana out of its morass.

More than being an issue about the rule of law, the attempted seizure of Red House hit many of us at an emotional level and came with the realisation that if someone as heroic as CheddiJagan can be treated with such scant regard, there is little hope for the rest of us.

The impending closure of the historic sugar industry and the disregard for the sugar workers’ plight is a case in point; and the Burnhamist tactics used by Granger in the attempted seizure brought to the forefears about his Government’s intent to return Guyana to the darkest period of that era.

That Granger could pick up Burnham’s legacy at the point where he had accepted the failure of his policies and had reached out to Cheddi Jagan to establish a national front government.

Tragically, Burnham died before this new level of political maturity could have been realised and no subsequent leader of either party has ever revisited this idea in any of their efforts at uniting our country. Putting the failed Public Health Minister at the head of the Social Cohesion department could be viewed as a Freudian slip: even Granger himself admits that this State programme is nothing but a fraud.

Social cohesion can never be mandated by a Government that parades its racism openly. It could become a reality, however, through an organic movement from the people themselves that are driven by a common cause and an adherence to decency.

The Red House fiasco has brought with it an element of hope that we can still stand united when the cause is just. It is always the straw that breaks the camel’s back and that this can be the catalyst that will finally bring us together to settle our historical hurts and help us to move forward might be a hope too soon.

But the promise is there.

The challenge ahead for the PPP

Bharrat Jagdeo has been elected as the new General Secretary (GS) of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) to the surprise of not many. At the Party’s Congress in Essequibo last month, he received the largest number of votes to the Central Committee (CC) and was obviously the most highly regarded by the rank and file.

At that highest forum of the PPP, the dominant expressed sentiment was that the Party’s top leadership needed to be consolidated to confront the challenges at this juncture of its history and the history of Guyana. It was clear there were some in that leadership who were more concerned with their own ambitions than in representing the constituency the Party represented.

What was operating has been described as the “Iron Law of Institutions”. This posits that some “people who control institutions care first and foremost about their power within the institution rather than the power of the institution itself. Thus, they would rather the institution “fail” while they remain in power within the institution than for the institution to “succeed” if that requires them to lose power within the institution.”

After the last elections when the PPP was removed from office, the Party faltered because of this factor and did not take full advantage of the missteps of the People’s National Congress (PNC)-led A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) coalition to demonstrate to the Guyanese people, the clear and present danger they face from the PNC, which was merely taking them back to the vicissitudes of their first regime. The last “tax and waste” budget was one example of the PNC’s contempt for the Guyanese people while the attempted illegal expulsion of the CheddiJagan Research Centre (CJRC) from Red House through bullyism exemplified the frontal attack on the PPP occasioned by the divisions they detected in the PPP’s top leadership.

The majority of the members of the CC must be commended for rising to the challenge. At the elections for the GS, these members withstood the challenge from those who would continue with the old, divided leadership and accepted the unique confluence of experience and youth represented by BharratJagdeo in consolidating the leadership as had been done for most of the history of the PPP. He is now the leader of the party in its role as part of the constitutionally defined executive branch of Government as the “Leader of the Opposition” and the leader of the PPP political party mobilising the Guyanese people to articulate their interests in the operations of the State.

As Jagdeo said after his election as GS, the work ahead must address both aspects of the PPP’s mandate. As Leader of the Opposition, the PPP will have to present itself as ready to lead the nation after the next elections in 2020. The PNC-led Government has confirmed its unsuitability to govern Guyana. Economically, their performance has been nothing short of disastrous. Even his most vociferous critic would have to concede there is no other leader than Jagdeo who is qualified to lead Guyana in this area. He worked to successfully remove the debt albatross from the neck of the nation, which had been bequeathed by the PNC and piloted programmes that delivered the highest growth rate in the Region for almost a decade.

In terms of his leadership of the Party, Jagdeo’s challenge would be to address the perception that the PPP is not representative of all the groups in Guyana. While the PPP has throughout its history doggedly stuck to its commitment from 1950 to represent all the peoples of Guyana, the departure of Burnham precipitated a split both of the Party and the country’s ethnic groups that is still unhealed. But with the PNC-led coalition demonstrating its opportunistic use of the AFC to just give lip service to the goal of national unity, the PPP under the leadership of BharratJagdeo is poised to demonstrate concretely that it can do the job.

 

Guyana-China relations

China is the second largest trading partner of Latin America and the Caribbean, which is also a major destination for outbound Chinese investment, second only to Asia. China’s direct investment in Latin America and the Caribbean has exceeded US$150 billion.

According to a draft Policy paper by the Chinese Government, China sees itself as brining development opportunities to the rest of the world. It is estimated that in the next five years, China will import US$8 trillion of goods, invest US$750 billion overseas, and Chinese tourists will make 700 million outbound visits. All this will present an even bigger market, more capital, a greater variety of products and more valuable cooperation opportunities to countries around the world, including Guyana.

Very often we hear the saying that Guyana boasts great development potential. However, there is one huge potential which is widely ignored, the potential of strengthened economic ties with China. According to the Statistical Bulletin of China’s Outward Foreign Direct Investment, China’s FDI stock to Guyana at the end of 2014 is only US$0.24 billion, less than 0.03 per cent of China’ global amount of that year.

In view of bilateral trade, if we check the statistics compiled by Guyana Bureau of Statistics, China, the soon-to-be largest market of the world, is not even on the list of top ten destinations of Guyana’s exports and the value of exports to China is tallied among “other countries”. Ironically, some local media still complain that Guyana had sold too much volume of commodities to China.

While enjoying deep diplomatic relations, China and Guyana hold similar views and have consistently echoed and supported each other’s positions, be it on key international issues such as UN reform, climate change, sustainable development, regional integration and cooperation between China and the Caribbean.

Guyana is the largest Caribbean country and one of the only two Caricom countries located on the South American continent. On the south of Guyana is Brazil, the largest economy in South America, also a member of BRIC countries. On the north is the whole Caribbean Basin toward the North American continent.

So geographically and culturally, Guyana plays a strategic role in bridging South America with the Caribbean and further north. This unique advantage, now becoming even more valuable due to the rising trade protectionism, can be taken off in service of Guyana’s economic development goal. The countries share in the benefits of the tremendous volume of goods, people and services which flow between South America and the Caribbean, via Guyana, only when certain infrastructure bottlenecks of land and sea transportation can be overcome, namely, when the highway and deep-water harbour projects are initiated. In pursuing connectivity of this magnitude, supporting industries like energy and telecommunication also need to be expanded and upgraded.

Based on the above analysis, four fields in the cooperation between China and Guyana could be identified and prioritised for further strengthening; these include infrastructure, energy, ICT technology application and capacity building. In tandem with other partners and stakeholders, the Chinese government and enterprises are willing and able to play a more active role in those fields in Guyana.

Over the years, Guyana has seen tangible benefits in a number of areas, particularly health, infrastructure and information technology. The most recent projects include the Smart Guyana Project by Hauwei Technologies and a multimillion-dollar contract with China’s Exim Bank for the construction of roads in West Demerara.

Right after Chinese President Xi Jinping wrapped up his state visits to Ecuador, Peru and Chile in November, the Chinese government issued its second Policy Paper on Latin America and Caribbean. The Policy paper aims at summarizing the development experience and elaborating new ideas, proposals and initiatives in guiding China’s cooperation with Latin America and the Caribbean in various areas for the future. This is a “now or never” opportunity that both China and Guyana must grasp.