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By Prem Misir

THERE are different truths; truths engaging a different agenda of questions, to preserve the existing order of things, not the total truth; truths preserving a group’s agenda to initiate change, another limited truth; both situations are people’s perceptions of what their concept of truth is; both representing a biased version of the true reality.

I present a few examples of limited truths; here goes:
Democracy has not taken hold in Guyana; economic development is still a far cry from being part of the woodwork in Guyana; the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) is responsible for a lack of democracy and a lack of economic development through its failure to have constructed a national consensus immediately preceding the 1992 general elections.

Dr. David Hinds presented these sentiments and ideas in the Social and Economic Studies (54:1 2005, 67-82) of the University of the West Indies (UWI); and Hinds’ complaint of the PPP bungling the opportunity to achieve a national consensus is based on a Working People’s Alliance (WPA) version; an explanation lacking in completeness. Hinds neglected to inject the PPP’s version into his discussion; and of course, to include, too, other versions pertinent to the discussion.

The PPP first initiated a proposal for the formation of a National Patriotic Front Government in 1977; not much happened then, except a few temporary alliances. A stronger arrangement emerged after the 1985 national elections when the Patriotic Coalition for Democracy (PCD) was established to remove the People’s National Congress (PNC) dictatorship; bringing together five of the six opposition parties that contested the 1985 elections.

Eventually, a PCD programme or platform was documented, but not publicly released. The PPP felt that it was mandatory to publicly disseminate such a programme prior to the 1992 elections; enabling its access to all sections of society.

Disagreement emerged too on the choice of a Presidential candidate. The WPA initially agreed to have a person from one of the parties, but subsequently altered its position. The PPP consistently supported a person from one of the parties.

The PCD rejected the PPP’s nominee Dr. Cheddi Jagan as the Presidential candidate because he was an Indian; the PPP then suggested Dr. Roger Luncheon; he too was rejected because he was considered a communist.

Disagreement continued on party allocation for the joint slate for the National Assembly. The WPA suggested that half of the joint slate should be allocated equally to the four parties; the other half to the civic groups; under this formula, the PPP would have contributed only 12.5% to the joint slate. Rejection of the proposal followed.

The PPP further suggested a provisional Presidential candidate and a provisional distribution for the joint slate in the proportion of 4-3-2-1, as one party had dropped out of the PCD; this proposal too was short-lived.

And so to which party could we attribute blame for not achieving a national consensus in 1992? Clearly, there was considerable disagreement within the PCD immediately preceding the 1992 national elections; and there may be other pieces of evidence on considerable disagreement within the PCD prior to 1992. Hinds’ argument that the PPP bungled on the achievement of a national consensus, therefore, is difficult to accept.

In commenting on Guyana’s fragile democracy and evolving economic development, why can we not simultaneously acknowledge the ‘what is’? Maybe, Guyana is experiencing a democratisation and economic development process not as fast-paced as we may wish; nonetheless, there are developments proceeding on both fronts, requiring some acknowledgement. Non-presentation of the ‘what is’ strengthens biases in any type of assessment. And there is no significant discussion of social indicators and social development in the Hind piece.

Indeed, the article in UWI’s Social and Economic Studies contains no comparative data on economic development for the 1992-2005 period; suffice it to say that reasonable economic development has occurred and while it is not my intention here to assail this presentation with statistics, a few may point to some progressive development on the economic front; belying Hinds’ assertion of a lack of economic development.

After 1992, Guyana was classified as a lower middle income country; carrying a Gross National Income (GNI) of US$649 million in 2000, US$682.1 million in 2003, and US$765.4 million in 2004; and the GNI per capita as US$860 in 2000, US$890 in 2003, and US$990 in 2004 compared to US$231 in 1991; minimum wage/salary: total increase was 615% from 1992 through 2001; $2801 (1992) and $20045 (2001).

During the period 2001-2004, the average annual real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth at factor cost was 1%, the average annual real GDP per capita was 0.7%; soaring inflation at 105% in 1991 is 7% today; interest rate hovering over 100% in 1992 has been cut to 13% today; and US$2 billion external debt at 1992 is now about US$1080 million; servicing of total debt now is a mere 10% of exports of goods and on-factor services, reduced from 105% in 1992 and 90% in 1993. Guyana’s economic growth rate was 1.6% in 2004.

On September 9, 2005, Mr. Takatoshi Kato, Deputy Managing Director and Acting Chair of the Executive Board of the International Fund (IMF), said: "Guyana has made welcome progress under the PRGF arrangement. Despite the significant damage caused by the record floods in early 2005, programme implementation has been broadly on track...macroeconomic stability has been maintained and inflation has remained low. Moreover, even in the face of sharply higher world oil prices, the overall balance of payments position continues to be in line with projections.”

I think, too, that we need to consider the countervailing effects of the world economy on developing economies prior to making significant economic pronouncements. At any rate, whenever world development slows down, poor nations are disproportionately affected. The IMF (2003) reported that world development at US dollars and at current exchange rates declined from about 5.5% in 1970-80 to 2.3% in 1980-90 to 1.1% in 1990-2000. World income inequality rose since the 1970s. This trend is strongest when incomes are calculated at market-exchange-rate incomes (Wade, World Development, 2004).

In addition, consider the Sen paradigm of development. Nobel Prize winning Economist Professor Amartya Sen has shown the futility of the traditional economic development perspectives of income, growth, and utility embracing GDP per capita, food security, and poverty. Sen believes that a better approach is to evaluate market outcomes and government actions in relation to valuable human results produced; a paradigm shift in development, moving away from income/growth/utility to a new beginning, a new focus on people’s entitlements, capabilities, freedoms, and rights.

Note that the Human Development Index (HDI) is largely sourced from Sen’s work. Note, too, the three critical human capabilities in the HDI – literacy rate, income, and life expectancy at birth; a mixed bag of social and economic indicators. The Sen paradigm refutes the significance of a total focus on economic development, perhaps to the detriment of social development; significantly applying social indicators now becoming the norm of developing economies as a response to HDI.

The following key indicators of health have progressively improved over recent years: infant mortality, maternal mortality, doctor/patient ratio, nurse/patient ratio, and bed/patient ratio. Today, the national enrolment ratios for both primary and secondary schools are increasingly better than a decade ago; but hinterland regions are still hovering around a third in secondary school enrolment. By 2002, 74.2 of the people had access to safe drinking water; excepting Region 8 where only 26.6% had access. Electrification is now within the reach of 75% of households.

Hinds asserts that the democratisation process in Guyana is inadequate. In a democracy, a citizen is expected to appreciate diversity; actively participate in the society; be well informed; and support the state. There absolutely is no disagreement that democracy involves more than casting the ballot at election times.

Faced with the legacy of an authoritarian regime, the new government faced enormous problems in establishing a democracy because of some persisting autocratic traditions, beliefs, and values unsuited to a functioning democracy.

Notwithstanding such adversities, Freedom House, a highly-respected international group, depicts Guyana as free and high on political rights and civil liberties in 2005 as it has done since 1993.

Has Guyana not made some strides in the reconstruction of democracy? Do we not see social developments in this country? I would answer in the affirmative. But we must do more in the cause of development; projecting limited truths may be unhelpful. And this projection may very well not be Dr. Hinds’ intent.

(** Scheduled for publication in the Social and Economic Studies, University of the West Indies in 2006)

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