Today, we commemorate 50 years of being a Republic, having cut all governance ties with Britain, which had ruled us for almost two centuries. Those who agitated for the rupturing of those ties went to great lengths to reveal and explain their exploitative nature, which left us so underdeveloped that after four centuries of the Dutch and British using our human and physical resources for producing raw sugar, only this year we are finally proposing to refine that sugar for our own consumption rather than importing our sugar which was refined in Britain and resold to us at a premium.
And so it was in almost every other field of economic endeavour where expatriate firms exploited the resources with which we were blessed – bauxite, gold, diamonds, timber. Only with rice, which was totally indigenously founded, expanded and maintained, were we in control and ended up with the revenues generated by our sweat and blood. With the declaration of our Republican status in 1970, the then PNC regime, with the support of the then Opposition PPP, embarked on the nationalisation of “the commanding heights of the economy” in an effort to retain a larger percentage of the profit from our resources.
Burnham and the PNC’s effort failed miserably for any number of reasons, not the least being that they staffed the upper echelons of the nationalised industries with only “yes men” from the PNC. The expression “square pegs in round holes” resonated in all areas of national life. After 28 years of independence and 22 years of Republican status, we were left just barely above Haiti in the Western Hemisphere, when free and fair elections were finally returned through local sacrifice and foreign pressure, especially from the United States.
Under the PPP from 1992, our economic and social health was slowly rehabilitated so that by the first decade of the new millennium we had moved from being a “Highly Indebted Poor Country” (HIPC) to a High Middle Income Country with a very sustainable debt load. However, even though this progress was demonstrated through empirical World Bank studies which showed that poverty had been reduced equally in all ethnic groups on the coast, the Opposition PNC accused the PPP government of “racial” discrimination in its programmes.
The first decade of the new millennium, ironically also witnessed the PNC’s violent “slow fyaah; mo fyaah” street protests against the PPP, segue into armed attacks against the state and purported supporters of the PPP by bandits ensconced in the village of Buxton. Armed groups sponsored by drug traffickers, businessmen under attack and even the state fought the bandits to eventually eliminate them but unfortunately undermining key institutions of the state and leaving hundreds dead. The political cleavages consequently increased even though the economic situation improved for all groups – with the Indigenous Peoples unfortunately still lagging even though the government gave them special attention.
Today, Guyana is being offered an opportunity for a new beginning with the discovery of oil – a new resource – off our shores. Learning from our experience with the nationalisation of industries, we must accept that private industry – which works on the “profit principle” must be allowed to take the lead in developing and running the industry. But since the oil resource is the property of the people of Guyana, the government of the day must ensure that the sector is properly regulated and overseen so that we will share equitably in its monetisation.
The present PNC-led government stumbled badly, as pointed out by the IMF and a welter of NGOs. when it did not bargain as hard-nosed as it could have, in the award of the Production Sharing Agreement (PSA) with the International Oil Companies (IOCs). This must not be repeated in all future negotiations. The elections of March 2, offers the Guyanese people the opportunity to choose a government that will best represent their interest to finally use our resources to make us a prosperous people and republic.
We believe the PPP/C has earned our nod.