Moving on

The grand Jubilee celebrations of our Independence is now over. The final event was the privately sponsored Banks Jubilee Mega Concert at the Guyana National Stadium late Sunday night, May 29. And unfortunately it appears “Banks Fest” might just serve as a synecdoche for the state of affairs of our country, 50 years after Independence.

Minister of Public Security Khemraj Ramjattan had waived the 2:am limit on events serving alcohol for “Jubilee week” and by 3:am a fight broke out among the mostly young, inebriated patrons which literally “brought the curtains down”.

From announcements last year, many thought the ambitions for the celebrations exceeded the capacity of the country to execute them. And from the poorly attended, almost invisible multi-event Jubilee Festival earlier in the week, to the infamous walk-out by the Opposition from the Flag Raining Ceremony at the new Jubilee Park, the celebrations became a “series of unfortunate events”.

But while one may hope all of that is behind us and the country should be moving on, as William Faulkner reminded us, “The past is not dead; it is not even past”. One unfortunate “live” event that must be addressed sooner than later would be for the government to offer an unequivocal apology to the Opposition Leader and his MPs for whom seats were not reserved at the Flag Raising Ceremony. All their “explanations” will be seen as “cavilling” at best, and “crass” at worse.

But the government has much more to move on from than its faux pas of the Jubilee week. There is the economy on which the World Bank pronounced two months ago: “…real GDP growth decelerated to 3.8 percent in 2014 and to 3.0 percent in 2015, as commodity prices collapsed for Guyana’s major exports. Drought, and uncertainty surrounding the 2015 elections also contributed to slower growth. Increased production of gold (two new mines opened in 2015), rice, and sugar compensated for lower global prices and balanced out contractions in construction, forestry and bauxite production.

The economy is expected to grow by around 4 per cent in 2016 and 2017. Most of 2016 growth is expected to come from continued rapid growth of gold production and rebounding performance in construction and wholesale and retail trade industries.”

The government has latched on to this prediction of growth to assert all is well with the economy. But even a cursory look at the numbers above would suggest otherwise.

The two “new mines” in gold mentioned are both foreign owned (Troy and Guyana Goldfields) and will produce the most of the gold in the coming decade to be credited to Guyana. However, apart from the royalties and wages paid, while the huge value of the product might inflate Guyana’s GDP, it will not end up in Guyanese pockets to be spent in Guyana. And this raises the old controversy over “growth” versus “development” which one would have thought was settled by now – at least in Guyana.

Just to plug numbers into “GDP” to create “growth” while technically valid, has nothing to do with “development” which includes the income individuals have available for them to spend on their welfare.

Continuing with the World Bank statement, we are not sure where the “rebounding performance in construction and wholesale and retail trade industries” was coming from. The statements from the Private Sector Commission and several Regional business bodies have reported the very opposite.

What must be done by the Government for Guyana to “move on” economically is to craft a plan immediately, utilising all the tools available to them – monetary, fiscal, grants/loans, attracting FDI, etc – to jump-start the economy to create jobs.

The Opposition has already volunteered to assist in this effort and their offer will go a long way in building cohesion in the best way possible: creating an economy with enough wealth to be distributed equitably to lessen the finger pointing.