Aiming high

Stabroek News
August 4, 2001

Martin Carter used to say that many Guyanese behaved as if they would live forever. He meant by this that often there was no apparent desire to achieve anything substantial, whether at work or in other areas. There was a debilitating mediocrity, an apparent willingness to sit at a desk day after day putting in a minimum of effort, learning nothing, not seeking to improve and develop, perpetually half detached, sometimes almost hostile. They were wasting their inherent abilities, passing their days in idleness and non-achievement as if they were going to live forever and the fruitless passing of time did not matter.

The phenomenon is not limited to Guyana. It can be due to an almost infinite variety of causes, which include poor or inadequate nutrition, a bad socialisation process at home or at school which creates negative attitudes to society or the world at large, a non-functional education, a boring job, an unpleasant or uninspiring work atmosphere or bad management. Indeed an attempt to analyse in depth the obvious alienation visible in some offices would be a good starting point for an enquiry into the society. Why are people apathetic and unmotivated?

In the case of Guyana, two of the recent contributory causes have been the doctrine of the paramountcy of the party which prevailed in the seventies and eighties and which resulted in large numbers of people being given jobs for which they were unqualified or unsuited merely because they, or their parents, had the party card or party connections. Worse, it was very hard to discipline such persons once on the job as they would quickly invoke their party connections. The damage done to the work ethic in general and to the civil service and other agencies in particular was enormous. The message was that when the chips were down hard work and performance did not matter, it was all about who you knew. Quite a few of those persons are still in place with the same lazy and rude attitudes.

The other obvious cause is the noticeable lowering in educational standards. This has led to a fall in the quality of work performance and the resulting insecurity. The results are visible everywhere.

The frustrating thing is that the same people who waste many of their (and their employers) days are perfectly capable of good and sustained work in the right environment. Indeed many of them work very hard, and succeed, if they emigrate. The culture shock, the change of environment, the knowledge that there can be no fooling around any longer, or in some cases the motivation created by better pay and better working conditions create that jump start effect that transforms the individual.

The prevailing work ethic is poor for a number of reasons, yet there are still people putting in a fair day's work or the economy would grind to a halt. What we are all gradually learning from our experience as an independent country is that the development we want springs from a number of things including entrepreneurs with good ideas and the ability to implement them, people with managerial and administrative and technical skills, a motivated work force which is prepared to work hard for a fair reward and a certain quality of governance. How we achieve these things, how we stop wasting our time on strife and concentrate on building is what we have to work out for ourselves, partly as a result of learning from our own experiences. Development will not come from on high or from abroad.