There is no dearth of explanations or reasons proffered for our anaemic post-Independence development: ethnic/racial divisions; underdevelopment of our economy and our society by the departed colonials; squabbling politicians; lack of capital; brain drain, etc. But for each of the identified constraints, and then some (for instance, lack of physical resources), other countries – such as S. Korea, Singapore, and others in the Far East – have yet jumped from Third World to First World status.
But now that our capital constraint is going to be eased through our oil revenues, we would like to place on the agenda one factor that somehow has not received the attention that we believe it should have: the need for us to have a strong desire to work for the common good. Now, it might be said that this is a consequence of the divisions in our society, but this should have been addressed by the Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC), which was formed to address this circumstance and has a budget of more than $200 million annually.
One of the ERC’s mandates clearly states that it should: “Identify and analyse factors inhibiting the attainment of harmonious relations between ethnic groups, particularly barriers to the participation of any ethnic group in social, economic, commercial, financial, cultural and political endeavours, and recommend to the National Assembly and other relevant public or private sector bodies how these factors should be overcome.” One factor affecting harmonious ethnic relations is lack of a nationalistic spirit to overcome our challenges – especially economic ones.
Less than a decade ago, noted CUNY political scientist Richard Wolin visited China and asked one worker, “What do people here do on weekends?” The reply, to his surprise, was, “We have no weekends. We have to work hard to pass America!” They are now poised to accomplish that goal. On his tours across many campuses and cities, he found the same sentiment very widespread. The people were willing to work for what they saw as the good of their country. Because of such an orientation, China has been able to maintain a double-digit growth rate for three decades, and is now the second largest economy in the world – just behind the US.
Japan, which led the thrust for ‘miracle growth’ in the post WWII era, was also helped by a strong patriotic fervour among its people. Many people conveniently forget that the Industrial Revolution in Britain and Europe followed their consolidation as nation states, where the people were willing to sacrifice for “King and country”. While the US overthrew the king, its citizens also rallied for the national cause.
In Guyana, we are still at a point where the feeling of ‘we, the people’ has not been inculcated into the psyche of our people. In the absence of such a sentiment, individuals would act only in the interest of their sub-group or themselves on an individual basis. Looking out for “No 1” becomes the rallying cry. The ERC can work to change this.
Guyanese should compare the differential rates of development in the Far East, where exertion for the common good is commonplace, and that of let’s say Africa, or our own Guyana, where we are riven along ethnic lines. We must do better. In our estimation, the Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC) lost a golden opportunity, as was pointed out by President Ali, not to consult with his government in the structuring of their “National Conversation” to improve ethnic relations. One of their mandates is “Consult with other bodies and persons to determine and specify the perceived needs of the various ethnic groups for the fostering of harmonious relations.”
In societies lacking an ethos of the common good, people do what is advantageous for themselves, and have no qualms in abandoning principles or changing sides when it is beneficial to them. This expedient behaviour also encourages corruption. Corruption is not just a problem of political systems, it an attitudinal problem. Persons who are little inclined to accept personal disadvantages for the common good are easily corrupted.