We can count our blessings
December 29, 2003
BACK in 1995 - Tuesday, October 31, 1995 to be exact - a Stabroek News guest editorial portrayed Guyana as a picture of irony.
"Here is a country," reasoned the editorial, headlined Nationalism versus the national interest, "that is well endowed with resources, visited neither by hurricane nor earthquake, virtually untouched by civil strife or terrorism, never laid waste by war, never under the heel of military despotism, peaceful, industrious, tolerant, literate and democratic - yet as miserably poor as if we possessed none of these advantages."
Underneath the question, 'Why?' came the answer, at least in part: "The real answer has nothing to do with one party or another. It has to do with a conjunction of certain simple facts of geography, population and economics, combined with an attitude found in all parties that fail to see the implication of these facts.
"The simple facts are these: that we are a fairly large country - almost the size of Great Britain; that we have a tiny population - as small as Britain's a thousand years ago; that we have a meagre supply of domestic capital; and that our coastal regions are isolated, physically and psychologically, from the interior resources of which we dream."
We bring you this bit of history for a present purpose.
As 2003 draws to a close and 2004 dawns we can look back with pride and relative satisfaction at how far we've come since 1995, and count our blessings.
Although our economy has not grown as fast as we'd like it to, Guyana has nonetheless jumped a few rungs up the ladder of development. From a "miserably poor" country occupying below 100th place in 1995, Guyana ranked 92nd among the 175 countries listed for 2001 in the Medium Human Development - not the Poor Human Development - section of the UNDP's 2003 Human Development Index!
As if that wasn't enough to give skeptics a headache, the international community now ranks Guyana a middle-income country from the low-income country status it has held until this year.
Yes, Guyana is richly endowed with natural resources. And, yes, it is still poor by our own estimation since we're still to achieve many of the living standards improvement goals we've set ourselves. But we shouldn't kid ourselves that natural resource wealth can verbally translate into tangibles.
In a world in which industrialized and emerging countries alike are competing side by side for foreign investments, and in a scenario in which bilateral and multilateral dollar inflows are shrinking, Guyana is still facing an uphill task attracting the amount of money and high-tech transfers that it needs open up its natural resource frontier.
For instance, even though Guyana got the assistance of the Organization of American States (OAS) to prepare a comprehensive project concept document on the country's intermediate savannahs, investments are trickling in at best.
Besides, the implementation of some development programmes is tied to aid. One example: Guyana risks being penalized if it ignores or contravenes foreign-imposed stipulations on the exploitation of its pristine forest resources.
A wide range of other factors play into why the country is only so developed. Some of these factors have to do with the past management of the country's economy - something that apologists dread being referred to and the subversion of the rule of law.
Had we been "visited" by earthquakes of the enormity that is believed to have killed as many as 20,000 in Iran, or any of the other tragedies that devastate nations, Guyana would have remained at the bottom of the economic scale in the Western Hemisphere.
One big advantage we have on our side is our resolve to work together and to forego self in the national interest.