Revisiting the National Development Strategy: End of the future?
By Christopher Ram
September 5, 2004
This revisit was prompted by the mid-August visit to Guyana of former President Carter on the initiative of President Jagdeo, although for the record, the invitation was extended by both President Jagdeo and Mr Robert Corbin, leader of the PNCR. The press statement by President Carter at the end of the visit sought to put right back on the front burner the question of the National Development Strategy (NDS) on which millions of dollars and thousands of hours of some of the best human talent in Guyana had been expended.
They produced one of the most far-reaching and comprehensive development documents this country has ever seen, designed to transform this divided poor country from which thousands flee annually into a truly united Guyana.
Covering the decade 2001- 2010, the only real criticism would be that it was too visionary - just the ingredient that Guyana most needs as it struggles to record any but the most minimal economic growth despite massive investments funded largely by external aid and loans as well as substantial domestic borrowings.
In our article last week, we wondered aloud what Presi-dent Carter would have said to the modern-day representatives of the international bodies which had gathered in Atlanta, Georgia in 1996, and who had given their approval to the NDS as the mechanism which would facilitate the co-ordination of assistance by the international community. That speculation was prompted by the fact that those very organizations, and more especially the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) are throwing money behind projects and programmes with dubious objectives, outside of any co-ordinated plan and without the benefit of the most elementary studies being undertaken.
To be fair to the IDB, however, it is no less a body than the venerable IMF that trivialised the importance of such studies on the altar of expediency when it announced that the feasibility study of one of those projects - the cricket stadium - would be undertaken simultaneously with the construction work and even as the bulk of its financing was yet to be approved!
The web site of the Carter Center provided the answer to our speculation. It announced that the representatives of the donor community Carter met during his visit, including the US, the UK, Canada (sometimes referred to as the ABC countries), the European Community, the UNDP, the IMF, the World Bank and the IDB, had all expressed concern about the stalemated country but were unwilling to confront the Guyana Government. President Jagdeo has shown little tolerance of or patience with criticism, no matter how constructive or well-meaning, and those representatives could not be unaware of the fate of the UNDP representative who has effectively been asked to leave the country. The donor community has been cowered by the turning on/off of relations and the possibility of accusations of interfering or imposing unreasonable conditionalities.
The end of the future
Last week, we had also traced the virtual disappearance of references to the NDS by senior government functionaries, and most notably the surreptitious manner in which the NDS has given way to the PPP/C elections manifesto as the development strategy of the current administration. This intellectually bankrupt approach to development prompted us to conclude then that we would be considering this week the future, if any, for the NDS. We recall that President Carter listed the resumption of consideration of the NDS among the several recommendations, the execution of which would determine whether the Carter Center would have a "future role" in Guyana. The other major issues he identified are the resumption of constitutional reform and the implementation of decisions agreed and set out in the May 2003 communique by President Jagdeo and Mr Corbin as part of the constructive engagement which they had undertaken amidst much fanfare and considerable hopes.
The omens are certainly not good. No sooner had Carter and his team left these shores than the two major political parties resumed a relationship that is more common among teenage rival siblings than mature politicians in whose hands the fate of a nation rests.
President Jagdeo announc-es that Mr Corbin should call him, but neither one is prepared to take the initiative, the state-owned media continues its usual brand and slant of programming which effectively denies the political opposition access to that media, Dr Luncheon says "there is no basis" for the reassurances sought by the PNCR for the resumption of talks, and President Jagdeo announces that ninety per cent of the NDS has been implemented!
President Carter, obviously exasperated at the games which our politicians play, did not help the process by his very direct if slightly veiled criticisms of President Jagdeo posted on the Center's website after the visit. Even international diplomacy could not hide the huge disappointment at the lack of magnanimity of Jagdeo, his willingness to take full advantage of the winner-take-all system and some of the more shallow responses by President Jagdeo with whom the Carter Center is clearly extremely disappointed.
The Center notes in the document referred to in last week's column, that five years is the normal time for the Center's presence in any country. America's best known NGO has been here for more than double that limit, expending resources with considerably greater opportunity value elsewhere. Carter is looking to civil society to take and run with the NDS ball, but who in the increasingly marginalized and fragmented civil society has the stature to do so or the courage to ask President Jagdeo about the basis of his 90% claim?
Is it the trade union movement which is unable to speak with one voice when it speaks at all? Is it the private sector that is still looking for an identity and that is so open to accusations of misconduct, poor governance, tax evasion and the pursuit of personal and corporate objectives at the expense of all else?
It cannot be the bar association that is headed by expelled PPP/C member Khemraj Ramjattan. It cannot be the doctors, the accountants, the farmers or Red Thread. In short, there is no one or group around who can take on what President Carter advocates - which leaves us with the same two we are trying to run away from. Has anyone noticed that the civil society organisations have stayed clear of the suggestion? Those organisations perhaps have more sense than courage, and fear peeking their head out. We are indeed between a rock and granite.
The world's most unrealised country
In the midst of all of this, the purpose of the invitation to President Carter was for him to keep the Guyana's Center open with an eye on the 2006 elections. But President Carter was not going to allow the opportunity to pass without reminding the country of what he considers his Center's major contribution to Guyana - the NDS. His experience of working with hundreds of Guyanese on the NDS must have convinced him of the enormous talent of Guyanese which with the country's natural resources makes our economic performance in recent years - he puts our GNP growth at zero at best - most regrettable. It must surely be to our national shame that of scores of Third World countries visited by President Carter, he rates Guyana as the one with the most unrealised potential.
It is hard to believe that President Jagdeo's comments that the ten-year NDS covering the decade 2001-2010 has been 90% implemented was based on any recent encounter with that document. Was that possible? Have President Jagdeo's increasingly bloated entourage and bevy of advisers reminded him that Chapter 30 of the NDS - 'Implementing the National Development Strategy' - called for the approval of the NDS by the National Assem-bly, a radical departure from the normal approaches to infrastructural development to one in which the government's role in those developments would be as a facilitator rather than a financier, and the establishment of a National Development Commission comprising a small number of commissioners, wholly drawn from civil society and supported by a number of consultants and a secretariat?
Have any of the ministers attempted to follow 30.1.5 of the NDS which requires them to "revise existing programmes so that they might fall in line with those of the NDS"? Is the Minister of Finance familiar with the NDS, it genesis and contents and if he is, why would he have ignored it in the first two of his budget speeches?
That President Jagdeo would be so wrong in his assessment of the NDS stems, however, not only from his unfamiliarity with it, but also the different perspectives of development and concepts of democracy. President Jagdeo appears to believe that free and fair elections certified as such by the Carter Center are the sum total of democracy and that good politics is good business rather than the other way around. It is far easier for a politician to walk around a poor country making promises than to sit down and make the hard decisions and trade-offs necessary for sustainable long-term economic and social development. Tantalising Lindeners with a US billion dollar investment or the rest of the country with goodies financed by borrowed money might take the government through the next elections, but does little for real development.
To President Carter's reminder to President Jagdeo that Chapter 3 of the NDS on governance has been ignored, must be added the link between performance and governance, something that our private sector bosses can tell the President. The irony is better governance is perhaps one of the least-cost vehicles for development since it allows the robust examination of options, strong criticisms and feedback, society-wide participation and the commitment and inputs of the whole of society.
Paradoxically, President Jagdeo sees in Chapter 3 risks rather than opportunities, and demonstrates paranoia about those seeking power through the back door, and an immature appreciation of the realities of Guyanese society and history. Not only are these the very antitheses of the NDS, but they also prevent the vision of the NDS ever gaining a foothold in our political culture. It is for this reason, as well as the fact that Mr Robert Corbin was quick to embrace his recommendations that President Carter appears to have directed some of his strongest comments at President Jagdeo. Patience may be a virtue, but you do not waste it - not when experience tells you that success is unlikely and when there are others who are far more appreciative of your efforts.
Business Page is far from optimistic about the future of the NDS. Despite President Carter's hope, there is no civil society to carry it forward. In the current milieu of Guyana's politics, the PNCR's acceptance counts for little in the absence of agreement by the Government, which at best has shown little interest in the NDS's key provisions. Without the implementation of Chapter 3 dealing with governance, the benefits of the NDS are severely threatened, and without the NDS - by whatever name we may want to call it - our economy and therefore our future will remain bleak. There is little likelihood that this column will be returning to the NDS any time soon.