Economics will inform Guyana's defence strategy
Three-day seminar opens

By Patrick Denny
Stabroek News
April 27, 2000

Guyana's national defence strategy has to be formulated in the context of its fiscal reality, President Bharrat Jagdeo says.

Declaring open a three-day seminar at Le Meridien Pegasus yesterday, President Jagdeo said that this reality restricted spending on defence to 1.7% of the Gross Domestic Product because of the conflicting pressures on government's revenues.

Those pressures, he said, resulted from the need to meet unfilled demands for water, electricity, roads and housing on the one hand and on the other the demand to reduce taxes so as to provide an investment-friendly environment for the private sector. Responding to the pressure to increase public expenditure and reduce taxes, he explained, could lead to a widening of the fiscal deficit which in turn could lead to inflation and all the attendant ills.

He explained too that servicing of both the foreign and domestic debt as well as the wages bill took up more than 90% of government revenues from which defence spending must be funded.

Touching on the challenges to the country's security, President Jagdeo said that the removal of preferential prices could pose as serious a challenge to the country's security as it did to the country's territorial integrity. He explained that because Guyana was an exporter of primary products, a reduction in the value of its exports could lead to social unrest as a result of a decrease in real wages.

Other threats, because of their implications for stability and progress of the society, are crime and drug trafficking.

President Jagdeo also said that the involvement of the US at this stage of the formulation of the national defence strategy was to ensure that Guyana could avail itself of the best expertise available. However, he stressed that in the final analysis, it was for Guyanese to effectively use the assistance provided by the US in fashioning a defence strategy of their own.

He noted that the approach was not novel and had been used in the formulation of the National Development Strategy (NDS) where the Atlanta, Georgia-based Carter Center had provided expertise not available in Guyana. That strategy was uniquely Guyanese and was formulated after the widest consultation with all sections of the Guyanese society and the involvement of a large number of Guyanese experts of varying political persuasions and from a large number of organisations.

Like the NDS, he said, the final document from the conference would be taken to the National Assembly where it would be fully debated.

The objective, he said, would be to achieve a national consensus on the defence strategy which could be supported by all political parties and which would be pursued irrespective of the party in government. The conference, which is being hosted by the Government of Guyana in collaboration with the US Embassy, the US Southern Command and the Center for Hemispheric Defence Studies, resulted from discussions by a think-tank at the level of the Defence Board.

Those talks, the President said, determined the need for a small professional army bolstered by a larger reserve force; a role for the army in support of the other security agencies within the context of the Defence Act; and a role for it in the national battle against illicit drugs. He urged that these concepts be explored in the various workshops.

Dr Coby Frimpong, an adviser in the Office of the President and one of the prime movers in the formulation of the NDS, told the conference of the government's development imperatives. The draft NDS was completed in 1997 and Dr Frimpong said that since then it has undergone a process of review and the final document was due to be made available before the end of the year.

He explained that in the formulation of the strategy, the approach used allowed Guyanese to participate in national policy making as well as contribute to the country's future social and economic development. It also enabled the Guyanese people "to collectively take stock of the socio-economic situation; analyse problems and prospects in a wide range of sectors and provide a consistent and constructive framework for development."

And while it was still in draft, Dr Frimpong said, the analysis used was being employed by the donor institutions to underpin their assistance programmes to Guyana.

He explained too that the NDS identified a number of key sectors including agriculture, manufacturing and tourism as key building blocks of the economy on which to launch the rapid economic growth required to improve the lot of Guyanese.

Among the presenters at the conference is Florida-based Guyanese academic, Dr Ivelaw Griffith, a lecturer at Florida International University. The participants include Major-General (rtd) Norman McLean; Brigadier General (rtd) David Granger, Col (rtd) Carl Morgan, Commissioner of Police Laurie Lewis, Crime Chief Floyd McDonald and Dr Mark Kirton and Michael Scott of the University of Guyana. The PNC, The United Force and the Working People's Alliance are also represented and members of the media include David de Caires and Sharif Khan, editors-in-chief of the Stabroek News and Guyana Chronicle; Capitol News Anchor/Producer, Enrico Woolford and Stabroek News Sunday Editor, Anna Benjamin.