Commentary: Guyana should come first and then… – By Leonard Gildarie

The Story within the Story… Guyana should come first and then…

Leonard Gildarie

A dear friend of mine and her family are here on vacation. She has lived in New York for the past two decades, has her own small business, and a daughter in college. She is seriously thinking of coming back here.

For many Guyanese living in Queens especially, life is tough in the private sector. Several small businesses along Liberty Avenue have been forced to close because of a drop in sales and the fact that more efficient and less costly services are being offered by the deep-pocket competitors.

It would mirror what is happening in the region and in Guyana, and drives home the reality that we are not alone in the world.    

The Chinese and other businesses on Regent and Robb Streets are showing Guyana that a fast cent is better than a slow dollar in terms of profit.

I sincerely believe that we remain stuck in the old way of doing business. I am, of course, not discounting the fact there is still significant wrongdoing with Customs officers at the wharves and the downtown businesses – both local and foreign-owned. Not paying the necessary duties allow you to compete in prices, it is as simple as that. Never mind the loss to the Treasury.

There are hundreds, maybe thousands of Guyanese who are praying for an opportunity to return home. Many of them are awaiting their pension. The smart ones have kept their family homes in Guyana and would come from time to time to maintain them.

We have a strange situation that has crept up on us in Guyana for the last three decades. It has never been more pronounced, especially in Berbice and Essequibo. There are scores of empty homes in every village. They have not been abandoned. Rather, families migrated, leaving their properties in a caretaker’s hands or just closing it off. Some would return annually, do some maintenance, and after a few days return to their grind in the US and elsewhere.

You don’t believe me? Take a drive to Berbice and pick a village at random. Ask the neighbours how many homes are empty and whether the families are interested in selling.

I foresee home prices will rise in another three years or so, not only because of the demand for housing, but the development of the oil industry which will attract speculators and others who would want a permanent stake in Guyana.

On Thursday, May 11, 2017, the coalition government celebrated two years of being in office. I say celebrated, as there was a two-page spread in Kaieteur News extolling the achievements in the 24 months in office.

I am extremely heartened at the increased overseas training for public servants and the steps taken to reduce corruption. A number of Commissions of Inquiry have been launched and a number of bad eggs sent home.

Of course, after two decades the fact that local government elections were finally held last year should be applauded. But despite all the changes that are happening, we have to be wary of a number of things.

I pay very close attention to what is happening at the courts. We see as clear as day that the system is rigged in favour of the rich and elite white-collar offenders.

A man was reportedly arrested and taken to a city police station last week because he stole a tube of toothpaste. You read right…a tube of toothpaste. He will have to be passed through the courts and maybe fined and jailed if he can’t pay.

Yet you have persons who have been accused of stealing millions using the same process and walking free. Different yardsticks for the poor and rich, some will say.

Because of how the systems are configured, it will appear to many that nothing is being done to fight corruption. I myself am a little impatient. But due process has to be followed, if we truly intend to develop this country into a first world one.

This week I saw a report of us going to Brazil to learn about how their school feeding programme is happening. These are laudable efforts to learn of best practices.

In the same vein, we have to ensure that whatever we do, Guyanese should benefit.

From the applications that come in for foreign investments to the transfer of skills, the demand by the administration must be made clear…Guyana must benefit.

We have natural resources that our people can tap into and exploit. Are we giving them the same opportunities? We have monies in Guyana that a few of our businessmen can field or find to fund major projects or business initiatives. These are some of the things that I would like to see more emphasis being placed on. They can benefit from the same concessions too.

We should throw the ideas out and see the responses. Maybe then the arguments about being sidelined as a local would be out to rest permanently.

So as we move into oil and other projects, the administration has to pay attention to the bottom line—what are we getting from this?

Another area that the coalition and the Opposition should be paying attention to is more collaboration. We have been talking about a love for this country. It would be mere talk until we really translate this into actions.

How many times over the last two years have been able to sit at the table and, in a less acrimonious attitude, work together to arrive at decisions that are for the common good of all Guyana? Aside from our partisan politics in the National Assembly, we seem to be doing everything possible under the sun to make the other look bad.

In the meantime, while the grass is growing, the horse is starving.

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  • Leslie Chin  On May 17, 2017 at 12:59 am

    Donald Trump is making it difficult for legal and illegal immigrants to the US forcing many to leave. There are many highly educated Canadian youths who are having great difficulty finding a job that matches their education and skills. During a visit to Toronto in 2015 President David Granger issued a call to the Guyanese diaspora to return home to help rebuild the country. With opportunities on the decline in North America, it may be a good time to remigrate where our education, skills and capital can be put to good use.

  • demerwater  On May 17, 2017 at 3:25 am

    My opinion is that the economy of Guyana is not what one might describe as a “consumer economy”. I admit to being ‘out of touch’; but:
    I remember the rice farmer as ‘conservative’. He had to be. The livelihood of his (extended) family depended upon the quantity; and RMB grading; of his two rice harvests. I once attempted an “analysis” of my grandfather’s farming enterprise. He did not co-operate!
    The free labor of his children; and their children contributed a great deal to the ‘bottom line’.
    I have images of men in “Windsor” shirts and “Eureka” shoes – ‘ox-blood’ color. Women wore ‘jacket and coat’, white or “Madras” head-kerchief and the orhini – secured by one or two gold brooches.
    ‘Raw cloth’ was bought (remember the cloth vendor with his carrier bike on Sunday?) bought after darning and patching became an eyesore. There were always these young people who were on their way to becoming dressmakers and tailors; and would happily convert cloth into clothes – for an entirely modest and affordable fee.
    The sugar worker was more of a consumer. Anyone in the (extended) family over the age of 15 could earn wages during crop time – weekly. And the vendors were right there, around the pay office, to help them spend it.
    From time to time, I had reason to believe that rice farmers “looked down” on “estate people” – precisely because of their differing spending habits.
    The third major segment was the mining industry; but I cannot comment on that. All is anecdotal; and most likely – hyperbolic.
    One, often overlooked, aspect of the sugar industry is the ‘spin-off’ effect. Rum, molasses, the Annual Production Bonus etc. had a significant ripple effect on the rest of the country’s economy.
    Now the sugar industry must make way for other(s).
    Oil, you say?
    I can readily retort, “Look at Venezuela!”
    A certain amount of loyalty to my West Indian culture is almost tying up my tongue; but I wonder. — Did Dr. Eric Williams ever rue his statement? –
    “We got oil; and oil don’t spoil”.

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