Analysts have always expressed a profound sense of disappointment whenever Guyana and Singapore are discussed in the context of development. Both countries attained independence within nine months of each other; with Singapore first in August 1965. Its meteoric developmental path is exemplary. Today, with its magnetic tourism pull, thousands visit every year while for others, such a journey remains a dream to be fulfilled.
When compared to Guyana, Singapore is behind on available natural resources; however, it found ways to initiate and sustain development strategies in the interest of its people and to grow its international stature. Here, Guyana, within a similar time frame, is still waiting to fulfil its vast potential even though it is blessed with a plethora of natural resources.
Much has been said and written about the developmental disparity between the two countries and one seemingly agreed attributing factor for Guyana’s lag, is its politics in general.
A brief overview would unmistakably reveal the casualty of the dictatorial period of governance by the People’s National Congress (PNC) between 1964 and 1992. Failure, as a result of mismanagement and extravagance, led to rampant oppression and poverty. Many Guyanese, including skilled professionals, were forced to flee in a massive brain-drain.
Such a disabling environment could not have engineered the much needed visionary developmental strategies to capitalise on the diversity of its natural resources. At the end of that regime in 1992, the country was bankrupt and classified as a highly indebted poor one despite towering over Singapore in geographical size. That tyrannical rule also led to a tarnishing of its international image with redounding humiliation to Guyanese.
From 1992, a rebuilding process began and in 2015, Guyana was the fastest growing country in the Caribbean with years of sustained economic growth and expansion up to that point.
Within that 23-year period, there was unprecedented development, aided by the creation of enabling environments, leading to the positive transformation through modernisation of its physical and social infrastructures. Lives were similarly transformed as poverty gradually reduced.
Significant was the re-classification of the country from heavily indebted poor to a developing one. Its international image was restored and not only was the stigma removed from travelling Guyanese, but the country became a tourist destination. What did not happen in the 28 years of a dictatorship, was realised in much lesser time from 1992-2015, in a democracy, putting the country on a sustained development trajectory.
During that said period, despite the overwhelming evidence of transformation through modernisation, there was a major setback. The results of the 1997 General Elections were not accepted by the then PNC Opposition. Instability swiftly crept in as properties were set ablaze and many beaten in the ensuing violence believably by Opposition thugs. Business ground to a halt while fear and uncertainty prevailed as the PNC ramped up its destabilising efforts.
In the end, an election audit was conducted through an intervention by Caricom and the then People’s Progressive Party (PPP) Government forced to give up two years of its constitutional term of five. That period of instability punctuated by electoral violence, was not only an assault on democracy, but brought shame on the country internationally and set its then budding economic development path back by years. Fresh elections were held in 2001 and that path to prosperity gathered pace leading to what obtained up to 2015.
To put into context, Guyana could face a major constitutional crisis after March 21 when the constitutionally mandated period of 90 days to hold elections, following the successful passage of the No-confidence Motion, expires and no parliamentary extension, by a two-thirds majority, is granted. While economic progress slowed noticeably since the May 2015 elections, Guyanese want to see the country progress irrespective of the Government of the day.
They want to see a continuation of the gains made before that election so that their lives will continually improve. Those who are 27 years and younger would have been born into a democratic, developing, hopeful and economically prosperous Guyana. That is what they know and their lives and expectations vastly different from those who grew up during the oppressive and despondent period. Like all others, they would not want to be deprived and see any semblance of regression that could be realised by a constitutional crisis.
In such scenarios, not only can development be put on hold, but all would expect and demand prudent leadership in their best interest and that of the country. Common would be the desire for the country to be placed above partisan pride and self-interest and not just for a few to disregard the rule of law for seemingly personal gratification and power.
This is where the President must rise to the occasion and demonstrates unselfishly his oath and respect for the Constitution. The buck stops with him.
One indispensable factor for the country to prosper is adherence to the Constitution which allows for democracy to flourish. The longer he takes to abide and ongoing actions convince of grabbing on to power, the country and its people will unfortunately suffer in times of uncertainty. Such situations will ensure that Guyana becoming a Singapore will remain a figment of its people’s imagination.