Readers deserve, at the end of what the public relations specialists would refer to as a difficult year, something light something bright, perhaps something satirical. To satirize about the events and personalities of 2003 unusually implies some form of exaggeration and ridicule. Yet so many of the events involving some of our more important personalities were so ironic and ridiculous that satirizing them requires neither exaggeration nor ridicule - just stating the facts is bad enough.
The year 2003 saw the country's leading satirist for decades producing in real life the very situation which would have featured most prominently in the annual satirical Link Show. Yet, it would be most unfortunate if the challenge facing the show were to lead to its demise. Laughing at ourselves must mean more than laughing at others among us - the ultimate form of satire is laughing at oneself.
What about our politicians? It is often said with complete and hopeless resignation that politicians will be politicians, regardless of whether they are transformed by the vagaries of the electoral process into ministers or parliamentarians, just as boys will be boys until age catches up with them and even Viagra can help them no longer. But does our crop of politicians have to be less than politicians? Will our 97% ever recognise the difference between legality and legitimacy, accounting and accountability, or, thirty years after the Sophia Declaration, the difference between the party and the state?
What kind of political culture would permit the minister responsible for the nation's security to admit to contacts with people like Axel Williams and Shawn Hinds one day, and go out on a public relations offensive the next, telling the business people of the 'Republic' that they need to protect themselves by the establishment of a policing group? Whether or not the group is a major player in the national game of tax evasion, are they not entitled to the protection of the state?
And are our professionals much better? Will our pastors stop to consider what the tithe which they demand in the name of 'you know who' does to the disposable income of the worker in the congregation? And would they not better serve His (certainly not Her) will better by spending less time on homosexuality and more on love and charity? And can a profession that is dedicated to the laws have the overwhelming majority of the lawyers failing to comply with the law? Has the country become so inured to lawlessness that we are no longer capable of moral outrage or even letting our voices be heard?
And how is it that the accounting profession whose foundation is integrity, ethics and service to the public interest is increasingly seen as not representing those qualities? For how much longer can the Institute which regulates the accounting profession ignore its duty and its responsibility to the public interest to bring its errant members to book?
And how can some of our business people fail to recognise that the 'private' in 'private sector' does not exclude the public interest, and that how they manage (or increasingly, mismanage) their businesses cannot be considered no one else's business? Do they honestly believe that accountability, transparency and governance are exclusive to the public sector and exclude the much-vaunted engine of growth?
As if these are not enough, we cannot escape the talk shows, Plain Talk included, the press conferences and the letters from some of the country's leading, but apparently unemployed minds, looking for something useful to do. Is there some connection between the quality of our lives and the state of the nation, and the number of press conferences and letters to the hapless editors?
Could you imagine the increase in the nation's productivity if all those hours and resources could be converted into meaningful activities, and how better informed and educated and less confused the nation would be? Would it be appropriate to ask Drs Beckles, Harry and Ramsahoye for a joint opinion on some of these questions?
It is against this background that Business Page now turns its attention to 2004, to offer some predictions and express some hope - though faith may be more appropriate in Guyana's case.
Abroad in 2004
Two thousand and four is going to be a particularly important year for the world at large - how much and how fast its economy recovers, whether the WTO recovers from the Cancun failure and how successful it (read the USA) is in the war on terror will significantly determine just about everything else the world will face for the next decade or so. The world economy led by the United States of America will record real growth in the region of 3-4% although China, India and the Asian Tigers will set a pace that few if any can emulate. Globalization so eagerly promoted by corporate America will produce some quite unexpected results, and what was a few years ago the world's largest creditor nation (America) will now find that it is on foreign capital that it will have to rely to fill up the gaping hole in its balance of payments and to support its declining currency.
So obsessed has Pres Bush been with tax cuts, that he has unwittingly financed purchases of manufactured goods from China and Mexico while shipping IT jobs to India. Under his watch the US economy has lost close to 3 million jobs and come elections in November 2004 many of those unemployed will remain jobless. Does this pose a serious threat for the Bush's re-election? Ironically, Saddam Hussein whose pathetic face will feature regularly on television screens during the campaign will be one of Bush's trump cards, second only to an improving economy and helped in no small measure by the internecine fight by his wannabe Democratic rivals.
On the other side of the Atlantic, the UK's most loyal American Citizen, Tony Blair, will have little problem with his restive back-benchers or New Labour voters. France and Germany - Rumsfeld's 'Old Europe' - will accept their reduced influence in expanded Europe, while Putin will be forced to rein in his natural undemocratic instinct honed in decades of KGB training in dealing with the Chechens and Russian dissidents.
Improving relations between India and Pakistan will be set back by the increasing threat to the rule and life of President Musharraf. In India, not even another Gandhi name will prevent the secularist Congress Party losing further ground to the more fanatical pro-Hindu BJP. The leaders of China will bet on its billion citizens putting economic progress ahead of western democracy and the Communists will end the year with little threat even from the millions of Muslims within its borders.
Iraq will remain on the international agenda with America declaring victory and remaining in that country as 'invited' guests to help maintain order as the three major ethnic/religious groups battle for political influence. Afghanistan will continue to deteriorate while North Korea will go down as one of Powell's unsolved problems as he finally gives up on being a nice guy among the hawks.
...And at home
In Guyana what was once generally suspected has now been confirmed. Laws are passed because the IMF, the World Bank and the donor community have made them 'conditionalities' for us retaining their goodwill while losing our sovereignty. In his 2004 Budget to be presented in March, the Minister of Finance will report only some very modest gains in growth and inflation and announce massive capital expenditure to repair the roads built at prohibitive cost only a few years ago. He will announce further measures to widen the tax base 'because those that we have put in place have been blocked by the courts' or have failed to deliver the expected results. Treasury Bill rates will remain low but businesses will feel the effects of the tax changes on lending secured by bonds, increasing their borrowing costs. The exchange rate of the Guyana dollar will continue its gradual decline even as narco-funds continue to distort the economy. The Minister will proudly announce that he has had no further instructions or directions from the IMF/World Bank, but that as soon as those are issued they would be implemented without troubling Parliament.
The PNCR will continue to have as much difficulty convincing its 'rank and file' that they have benefited from the Constructive Engagement (CE) as the party had in differentiating between CE and the Dialogue. Pressure to put the CE on hold will mount as the PNCR leadership finds itself using up scarce resources in a publicity, propaganda war with the PPP/C, and discovers that no communique can make up for the mutual distrust between the congenital rivals for space and power, or transform a culture which does not allow for co-existence, let alone co-operation. The failure of the talks will signal the start of another round of 'protests,' dampen recently-expressed confidence by the business community and accelerate outward migration.
Crime will remain top of the agenda with no one being held responsible. Citizens are assured, however, that the police will conduct a 'thorough investigation' into every crime, while the police will silently welcome the passing of some of the country's more notorious street personalities. The courts will continue to under-perform while the band of regulators established to serve the interest of the public will continue to disappoint, cowed by the big and bad in the private sector.
In cricket, the promise of the West Indies' young brigade will remain just that, with Lara, Jacobs and Chanderpaul bearing the brunt of the responsibility for any revival of the team's fortunes. By this time next year we will be better placed to see whether the West Indies will merely host or be a serious contender to win the 2006 World Cup. Australia will continue to prove that it is teamwork, commitment and professionalism that deliver success, while the sports event of the year will certainly be the Olympics hosted in its birthplace, Athens.
Let us hope that all the fears will not materialize, but that with all of us - politicians, lawyers, accountants, preachers, the private sector and talk-show hosts - praying for divine intervention we will be inspired to achieve all the potential which Cuffy's parents had told him about. A peaceful and successful 2004 to all!