Building a nation may take decades

Stabroek News
June 2, 2001

Dear Editor,

Guyanese are engaged in a constitutional review process. It can be assumed that all who have contributed and are still contributing to this process have their own particular vision of the kind of society that they would like to live in. It can also be assumed that some contributors may be motivated by thoughts about the quality of life for future generations. What is important is that this process does offer choices. However, a crucial question is: "What should be the characteristics of a constitution designed to have the potential to meet the present and future needs of the Guyanese society as Guyana prepares to journey through the new millennium?"

In years gone by when change was much slower and barely perceptible, it was not too difficult to predict the future with a fair amount of certainty. However, in these days of rapid and often dramatic changes brought about by new technologies, knowledge revolutions and globalisation, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible to predict the future with precision.

From my own experiences in Guyana over the past four decades, I have come to the conclusion that the paramount need that confronts all Guyana is the need to build a Guyanese nation consisting of Guyanese who share a common destiny.

The building of a developing nation in an era of globalisation will be a tough, arduous and painfully slow evolutionary process. It will not happen within a short space of time - it will take decades of persistent conscientious effort and commitment. But, it is essential for all Guyanese to realise that our "new" constitution must be the first step in the life-long journey of nation building.

It provides the foundation upon which all edifices will be built. The new mission of the new constitution must be to facilitate dialogue (the search for meaning), give birth to, nurture and enable Guyanese institutions that will empower all Guyanese to become constructive members of society.

I would suggest since nation building is a continuous life-long process, it is imperative that life-long learning becomes part of our culture. The framers of the "new" constitution must produce a constitution that is the cornerstone of a learning society.

Mechanisms must be built into the "new" constitutional framework to ensure that regardless of changes in the environment, the constitution retains the capacity to sustain the integrity of the various social systems and institutions.

Among other things, the new Guyana constitution must also do the following:

First, provide intelligent alternatives to the downward spiral of a rapidly polarizing society and give to every Guyanese reason to expect a far better life. The costs of polarisation are too high for each and everyone of us to bear.

Second, stop the destruction of the "warp" and "woof" of our social fabric into the "haves" and "have nots".

Social cohesion, based upon shared vision and values, integrity (trust), dialogue (meaning), and systems thinking (everything is connected to everything else everywhere), is necessary for a well functioning society and nation building. The constitution must enshrine the processes that nurture a caring and humane society. It must provide for a more reasonable distribution of resources and benefits.

The framers of the new constitution must take into consideration the tension between globalisation and social cohesion. These tensions are real and are likely to intensify. If they are not properly managed, they would increase social disintegration. Recent events in Georgetown have demonstrated most vividly that there can be no economic progress in a polarized and divided society.

Third, the new constitution must speak to a new social contract and to a new non-partisan role for the state - "a new social investment state" in which there is a dynamic tension that will incubate more appropriate social behaviours (open-mindedness, caring and others), intellectual entrepreneurship, true professionalism, imagination and creativity. All of these characteristics are necessary in nation building and for the creation of national wealth in all its manifestations.

In summary, the new constitution of the "new social investment state" must place much more emphasis on:

1. the right to permanent basic education (capacity for life-long learning) for all Guyanese. This would make for a more equitable distribution of resources and benefits;
2. the development of a learning culture, that is - life-long learning;
3. the development of corporate social responsibility;
4. the development of strong families and communities;
5. the responsible regulation of market forces; and
6. the building of a socially cohesive nation.

Yours faithfully,

Dr Clarence O. Perry

Editor's note:
It is doubtful if a constitution can achieve all these things. Commentators have noted, for example, that at the height of Stalin's depredations the Soviet Union had a `democratic' constitution. Constitutions are important as providing a legal framework but development and progress raise other issues and require other qualities.