Development, stability and good governance

Business Page
Stabroek News
March 25, 2001


Now that elections 2001 are ended the political rancour and animosity have resumed. It is a shame that the fears of the business community as expressed by respondents to Ram & McRae's Business Outlook 2001 appear not to have been noticed by our political leaders. For the benefit of our readers we repeat some of the findings of that survey: Forty-four per cent and thirty-seven per cent of respondents to the questionnaire were pessimistic about political instability and elections-related disturbances respectively.

Even if we ignore the narrow base of the economy, we must admit its fragile nature which is partly responsible for its erratic performance since 1997. How can a country develop in this political culture and how can political parties which claim to put the country first put it through this agony? In a society as divided as we are, elections merely reinforce the fissures rather than contribute to solutions. The other pages of this paper and indeed other media and sectors of society will no doubt address and identify solutions which our major parties hopefully will be willing to consider.

Negative growth

Ever since the 1997 elections the economy has been in limbo and we have had two years of negative growth recently. No country with as low an economic base as Guyana's can afford to record such dismal performance. While some persons argue that people cannot eat GDP, growth comes from investment, jobs and productivity. If the business community - both domestic and international - does not have confidence in the economy, there will be no new investment to provide jobs and taxes.

The poor are indeed struggling to put a meal on the family's table and frustrations are both understandable and deserve understanding. When people cannot get a job or have decent housing, the alienation is painful and the tendency to rebel against anyone and everything must be great. Campaign rhetoric about jobs does not create them and Business Page could not help noticing with surprise some of the claims made by contestants vying for votes. Perhaps those engaging in the type of action we have witnessed recently may not be aware of the link between such activities and job creation and that their actions drive people and investment away and simply make it harder to create further jobs.

Mr Haslyn Parris, an outstanding patriot and Guyana Scholar understands the link and it is therefore all the more unfortunate that he should have been the victim of an attack no matter how strongly his attackers might have felt about the elections results. Mr Parris and his colleagues should be complimented for bringing off these elections under such difficult conditions.

The leadership challenge

Both our major parties have a national duty to prevent a deterioration of the incidents which took place on Thursday. Those parties have been around for a combined period of almost one hundred years and they possess institutional memory and capacity. They have both witnessed some unforgettable tragedies and have hopefully learnt some painful lessons which they should use to guide their action in the immediate future.

They have to realise that development cannot take place in an unstable environment. Mr Desmond Hoyte has served this country with distinction for decades and while his words or actions in both government and opposition have met on occasion with displeasure from sections of the public no one doubts his commitment to the development of this country. Indeed Business Page has stated on more than one occasion that Mr Hoyte has not been given the credit he deserves for the courage in reversing several of his predecessor's (Mr Burnham) policies including the re-introduction of several basic food items. It was under Mr Hoyte that the Economic Recovery Programme was introduced and the basis for debt relief laid. In these bold moves Mr Hoyte would have met some objections from his own party but he persevered for the better of Guyana. He is again faced with the challenge of taking action which may make him unpopular with some sections of his party. Economic development was a key issue in the Manifesto of the PNC Reform. He has remained committed to economic development even in opposition and it is for the sake of the economic and social development of the country that Business Page asks Mr Hoyte to use all his leadership skills to bring his influence to bear on the activities taking place in various parts of the country.

The prerequisites for development

The view that investors prefer stability to democracy per se is no longer valid as the lessons of around the world have shown. Indeed investors consider dictatorial tendencies in any administration as unpredictable and unstable. Such tendencies manifest themselves in corruption, disrespect for the rule of law and not unusually violence. No society has ever developed without strong laws which enjoy popular acceptance or with widespread corruption.

The rule of law extends well beyond the poor who steal or engage in anti-social activities almost as a form of protest, some of which are clearly unacceptable such as domestic violence and violence against someone because that person belongs to a different race or holds a view which we may not like. It extends to all levels of society and includes Parliament, the public service, law enforcers, the rich, civil society including the media and the politicians. It is the foundation from which developm