The term annus horribilis, came into prominence in the Christmas Day
Message of 1992 of Britain's Queen Elizabeth, and was used to describe what
for her personally was a truly miserable year. It was the year during which
one of her palaces, Windsor Castle, caught fire and her sons Charles and
Andrew both divorced. Thirteen years on did 2005 displace 1992 for that
'horrendous' title in the international scheme of things? And then there is
the inevitable question, what about Guyana?
For some Guyanese 1992 was annus mirabilis, the wonderful year in which
democracy finally returned to Guyana. For others that grand claim is now
under intense scrutiny and challenge if only partly because of slippages in
subsequent years. It is now more than ten years since we have not had local
government elections while the framework for national elections seems
horribly inappropriate to our society and circumstances. The elections
themselves continue to be characterised by ethnically defined patterns of
voting, are fraught with controversy and violence and are far from the
popular expression of either a statement of confidence or an endorsement of
policies. Yet, despite the widespread dissatisfaction with the system, there
is no national consensus or collective courage to redraw the system that for
decades has perhaps more than anything else served to retard our economic
and social progress.
The Japanese word:
But before looking at dear old Guyana, what about the global situation?
As one commentator described it, 2005 was a year in which nature conspired
to hurt those humans who had not derived ways of hurting themselves or their
neighbours. A Japanese word 'tsunami' took hold of our consciousness to
represent the most dangerous, destructive and deadly side of nature. The
tsunami actually took place one week before 2005 began, but the advent of
the new year brought with it the aftershock of destruction that even as a
dream would have been one to be wished forgotten. As if that was not enough
the world recorded the worst hurricane season since records started, with
Hurricane Katrina in particular exposing the United States' underbelly of
the world of the have-nots.
There were serious earthquakes in some regions of the world, while
flooding appeared in surprising places all across the globe. Had nature not
been so egalitarian it would have been tempting to say that it was poetic
justice or karma for those who continue to ignore the fragility of the
eco-system, and whose actions pose a threat not only to subsequent
generations but to the one here and now.
And despite the realisation by the rich countries that they cannot wish
away the problems of Africa for which they are in no small measure
responsible, hunger, disease - including AIDS - and regional conflicts
remained part of that continent's landscape. As for the world, it remained
under the threat of bird flu developing into a human pandemic.
To the dismay of many around the world, George Bush began his second term
as President of the United States of America with the promise of nothing but
more of the same. The situation in Iraq remains delicately poised, while the
terror attacks, for all the billions that have been spent and the bombs that
have been unleashed, appear in unexpected places. Centuries after the
Crusades, the hostilities still reflect religious differences as bigotry and
religious triumphalism shut out reason and tolerance.
China is fast becoming the dominant economic power, much to the
consternation of the US which aggressively promoted and encouraged
globalisation to serve the interest of its multinationals, while India,
Brazil and Russia are joining with China to redraw the global economic
landscape and have created the acronym BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and
China). The effective failure of the Doha Round of trade talks, the stalling
of the FTAA and the rejection of a European constitution show that
nationalism is far from dead, and we are likely to see some retreat in what
had only recently been accepted as the inevitable and inexorable march of
globalisation - a word that has lost some of its sparkle.
Even the optimists would have some difficulty in identifying positive
defining issues and events in Guyana in 2005 - a year that started with the
devastating flood that contrasted the remarkable resilience of the people
with the pathological politicisation of the power structures. The nation
accepted without a murmur the rejection by the President for a commission of
enquiry with the simple and simplistic statement that he did not need a
commission of enquiry to tell him the cause of the flooding. Come on Mr
President, that would hardly have been the terms of reference of such a
Scandals and corruption surfaced only to be forgotten in the revelation
of some other bad news of the same or some other genre. A former minister
who was deemed by a commission of inquiry to have had improper contacts for
intelligence-gathering purposes with a hitman was promoted, while those
involved in one scandal have been rewarded with access to more state
resources, and football was given more money than police training. The
nation lost one of its true champions of accountability, Mr Anand Goolsarran,
the former Auditor General, when it holds the dubious distinction of being
rated among the most corrupt countries of the world. The President's
philanthropy and predilection for sharing out public funds rendered
irrelevant the Public Accounts Committee and the Budget and parliamentary
The economy in 2005 is expected to perform better than feared, no doubt
in part due to the infiltration of the economy by the increasingly visible
illegal operators. The tolerance of the society and the political
directorate of these elements and the ineffectiveness of the law enforcement
agencies to prosecute them must constitute perhaps the greatest threat to
the country. Everyone but the law enforcement agencies seems to know who are
the top guns (no pun intended) in the narco-trade, fuel smuggling and money
laundering operations - the triumvirate of destruction of public morality,
the rule of law and public safety. Amidst all of this, the President and the
Leader of the Opposition allow the position of Chancellor, the head of the
country's judiciary to remain vacant.
Governance and the country's tolerance for incompetence remain serious
problems as the President engages in the less challenging task of being Mr
Fix-It rather than originator of a vision and a co-ordinator of strategies.
The concept of ministerial responsibility is dead while ministerial
competence seems to be a real contradiction in terms. We want to be the
breadbasket of the Caribbean and our major agriculture product is under
threat, yet we do not have a substantive Minister of Agriculture. These
severe weaknesses are regrettably and incorrectly explained away by the
brain drain rather being seen as a consequence as much as a cause.
Laws are passed only to be ignored by the President and his ministers,
with no sanctions being applied or comment made. Institutions and committees
are created, ignored and all but die before recording even a single
achievement. The believers in globalisation, privatisation and
liberalisation ought now to be wondering why, with the re-transfer of
control of the commanding heights to foreign and local private capitalists,
the economy has not developed to acceptable levels, and why the government
remains the only driving force against poverty.
In both the public as well as private sectors information is hard to come
by, and Guyana is one of the few countries of the region without the right
to information legislation. Indeed, one of the achievements in 2005 was the
release of some information arising out of 2001! Here the private sector is
no less guilty and the tendency of leading companies to seek cover from an
all-too-willing court system contributes to an almost visceral fear of libel
suits and to self-censorship by the press.
It is not a comfortable platform from which to plunge into 2006, a year
in which national elections are due. The portents for change are not good.
The two major political parties see a completely different reality from each
other while the people who unfailingly vote for them have another. The dice
are loaded in favour of the incumbent with its unabashed use and abuse of
the state media and resources matching the lack of leadership, ideas and
energy coming out of the political opposition. These factors combined are
likely to produce results of the 2006 elections which will essentially
maintain the current political balance of power. The oft-expressed fear is
that the losing side or those who support it will not accept permanent
exclusion from decisions affecting their lives, but will express their
dissatisfaction by resorting to other means.
A second-term President Jagdeo will be no lame-duck President like George
Bush. He will continue to consider laws and procedures as inhibitors to
development, and with few if any Cabinet changes ministers will continue to
stand aside while the President usurps their functions and acts even more
dictatorially. In short it will be more of the same.
There is of course an alternative scenario with the PPP/C losing its
parliamentary majority and being forced to work with forces and influences
not umbilically and opportunistically bound to Robb Street. The 'newish'
Alliance For Change could take advantage of popular dissatisfaction with the
two major parties and score some seats from which to build a strong movement
for the future. To do this it needs urgently to define its policies, broaden
its leadership and support base and very importantly to begin the hard work
of building a political movement. The probabilities are not in its favour.
Another possibility - though a betting person would put odds against it - is
the PNCR winning either a plurality or, even greater odds, a majority in
those elections, that unlikelihood being due to its perceived failure to
break with its past, unwillingness to confront the ethnic dilemma of the
present and failure to offer discernible and credible policy alternatives
for a future administration.
Business Page remains convinced that the problems confronting this nation
of less than 1/4 million are not insurmountable or any different from those
of many other countries. The potential which Sir Walter saw centuries ago
has not disappeared - it has simply not been converted into opportunities.
However, it does appear just a bit too optimistic to believe that this will
change in 2006.
A peaceful and successful 2006 to all our readers.