Good old days…

…in bauxite

It’s been a whole century we’ve been mining bauxite in Guyana. Imagine that! 1916 to 2016. And in that simple fact lies a not-so simple reality. Imagine our bauxite supplied most of the aluminium to build the Allied warplanes that made them win WWII yet today, the community that actually performed the labour is in ruins. Panhandling for subsidies for its electricity.

Bauxite reminds us that Walter Rodney could’ve just as well written a book, “How Canada and the US Underdeveloped Guyana”. “Underdevelopment”, he taught us, is different from “undeveloped”. The former is the result of conscious decisions to ensure that a country doesn’t develop past the production of primary products…while the latter is simply the consequence of lack of capital or technology to utilise our resources lying around.

Bauxite is the ore from which we produce aluminium…and the price for the latter is at least 30 times the former. That’s a helluva lot of “value added”. To transform bauxite to aluminium you first have to purify it into “alumina” and this is the furthest the Canadian Company went with adding value to our product.

But they could’ve taken it all the way to aluminium. This needs a helluva lot of electricity – and this is where our “underdevelopment” kicked in. The Canadians shipped the Alumina and Bauxite all the way to near Niagara Falls which they’d harnessed to generate the needed electricity. But just as how they cleared forests to get at our bauxite, they could’ve utilised our abundant waterfalls and produced aluminium right here. But they never did!

And this was one of the reasons Burnham wanted that Mazaruni Hydro Power Project going back in the 1970s. He’d nationalised the bauxite industry, but discovered he was still caught in the maws of the international syndicate that markets the product and ensured we continued receiving a pittance. We still had to retain Phillips Bros – a South African company, even as we opposed apartheid – as our marketing agent.

But keeping the manufacturing of aluminium in Canada also allowed the Canada Company – ALCAN to charge itself whatever price it wanted for the ore – to “show” it wasn’t making profits. But our bauxite collapsed for another reason – politicisation. While he felt he had to place political appointees to run bauxite – Burnham eventually had to complain how the “comrades” on the work floor felt they didn’t have to work any longer.

Our falling productivity caused the Chinese to replace our high-valued calcined bauxite market with their inferior product – because we couldn’t deliver on time.

Let’s remember our whole story – after a hundred years of underdevelopment.

…of public hangings

With the crime rate stubbornly clinging to the stratosphere, lots of citizens are clamouring for the hangman’s noose to be reintroduced for serious crimes. Even the regime of the late departed Desmond Hoyte invokes nostalgia for the “good old days” of “hang ’em high” justice. And this was only back in 1988 or so when he decided Guyana had enough of “kick down the door” banditry! Imagine if we bring back the “cat o’ nine” tail from the 19th Century!

The debate became even sharper when the President’s declared he’s all for a new “softer and gentler” regime for lawbreakers. In fact, he believes even if the law demands some transgressors must be jailed for certain crimes, he’s decided this route is too draconian. He’s pardoned – and will continue to pardon – some he feels are “redeemable”.

“Go and sin no more” is his motto. Maybe so, says the Opposition, but could we know the names of the pardoned, so we can take care?

…of free money

Your Eyewitness is a tad confused on the $9B outstanding in student loans – much of it from the rich and famous. Isn’t there a means test for accessing these loans?

If there isn’t, aren’t we creating a “moral hazard” for these morally challenged persons??