The riders in the stands Editorial
Stabroek News
March 21, 2003

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As is well known, many who have never sat on a horse in their lives will confidently explain after a race why an experienced jockey did not win because of the mistakes he made. So it is in the broader sphere of public affairs. Those who have never even sat on a club committee, or if they did failed to turn up at most of the meetings and did none of the work assigned to them, will put forward the most elaborate and utopian solutions for complex problems involving the management and administration of public agencies of which they have only the most insignificant grasp.

The syndrome is well developed in Guyana today. Ignoring completely the ongoing economic crisis, the unpropitious atmosphere for investment, the massive deficit in skilled and experienced personnel, writers of all kinds put forward nice sounding solutions to a wide variety of problems. If you were to ask any of them where they would get the financial or human resources to do the job they wouldn’t have the slightest idea. It is a quirk of human nature that often the most extreme and vociferous critics are the least competent.

Management of public business is not easy as is evident from the fact that we are worse off today than we were 37 years ago at the time of independence. Since that time we have experienced a number of political and economic crises, the brain drain started in the fifties has continued and we now exist in a barely concealed state of collapse. This has been contributed to by the extra-parliamentary opposition politics of the last decade and the rampant multi-faceted crime of the last year.

For criticism to be useful it has to start from an acknowledgement of the difficulties and limitations inherent in the situation. It makes no sense, for example, to put forward a solution for the reconstruction of the police force that is based on the recruitment of a much higher quality of cadet. The simple fact is that such persons may no longer exist or may not be interested in that type of job at the pay on offer. There are several examples in recent times of businesses placing ads for reasonably high level personnel and stipulating certain minimum requirements of education and experience and not getting a single applicant.

We need a sense of perspective and a sense of reality. We are near the end of a decline that started a long time ago with a number of reckless policies and actions that had long term consequences. Over the last fifty years we have lost perhaps ninety per cent of the old, experienced middle class of public servants, administrators, businessmen and technicians. No society can withstand that loss. If you want to recruit a certain type of manager or technician now you would have to advertise in New York or Toronto and the reality is that they will not be willing to come given what they’re been reading or hearing about Guyana.

One can say with considerable confidence that we had a better educational system, a better public service, a more developed middle class and a more efficient social infrastructure forty years ago than we do now. The society has buckled under the strain of the brain drain, the violent politics and the ethnic strife. It is therefore absurd to put forward solutions that take no account whatever of this reality.

The last forty or fifty years has been nearly all struggle and very little building. We have not been able to find ourselves as a would be young nation, all we have succeeded in doing is fighting each other and pulling each other down. The end product is the mess we’re in today.

The problems of developing Guyana are by no means overwhelming if you ignore the human and social bottlenecks. The National Development Strategy has offered a perfectly good outline for the way forward. What has overwhelmed us are the socio-political problems, our lack of maturity as a nation. We want too much too soon, we don’t know what’s involved, we have no experience of building, we lack patience, we lack perspective, we have no understanding of human frailty or weaknesses, we tend to be abusive and confrontational with each other.

Our poor country and its people have suffered enormously. The pains of nation building are intense. Can free men emerge from this confusion with the wisdom and the fortitude to stabilise the ship of state before it sinks?

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