July 30, 2014

The great transformation

Now that market fundamentalism – which reigned supreme since 1980 with the advent of Reaganism and Thatcherism and found root here via the IMF-dictated “Washington Consensus” – has crashed and burnt ignominiously since 2008, politicians and economists are floundering for an answer to the question of what is the proper balance and state to create a just and prosperous society.

Interestingly, the answer might have been here for quite a while, but was ignored – in the book by the unorthodox socialist Karl Polyani, “The Great Transformation: The Social and Political Origins of Our Time”, first published in 1944. The review below should be of interest to Guyanese politicians as they seek a new, sustainable path for Guyana’s development.

Right from the start of the book, Polanyi attacks market liberalism for what he calls its “stark Utopia”. Conservatives had long deployed the “utopianism” epithet to discredit movements of the left, but Polanyi was determined to turn the tables by showing that the vision of a global self-regulating market system was the real utopian fantasy.

Polanyi’s central argument is that a self-regulating economic system is a completely imaginary construction; as such, it is completely impossible to achieve or maintain. Just as Marx and Engels had talked of the “withering away of the state,” so market liberals and libertarians imagine a world in which the realm of politics would diminish dramatically.

At the same time, Polanyi recognises why this vision of stateless autonomous market governance is so seductive. Because politics is tainted by a history of coercion, the idea that most of the important questions would be resolved through the allegedly impartial and objective mechanism of choice-driven, free-market competition has great appeal.

Polanyi’s critique is that the appeal has no basis in reality. Government action is not some kind of “interference” in the autonomous sphere of economic activity; there simply is no economy without government. It is not just that society depends on roads, schools, a justice system, and other public goods that only government can provide. It is that all of the key inputs into the economy – land, labour, and money – are only created and sustained through continuous government action. The employment system, the arrangements for buying and selling real estate, and the supplies of money and credit are socially constructed and sustained through the exercise of government’s coercive power.

Polanyi effectively brings the role of government and politics into the centre of the analysis of market economies. If regulations are always necessary to create markets, we must not discuss regulation versus deregulation but rather what kinds of regulations we prefer: those designed to benefit wealth and capital, or those that benefit the public and common good?

Similarly, since the rights or lack of rights that employees have at the workplace are always defined by the legal system, we must not ask whether the law should organise the labour market but rather what kind of rules and rights should be entailed in these laws – those that recognise that it is the skills and talents of employees that make firms productive, or those that rig the game in favour of employers and private profits?

Implicitly, Polanyi offers an alternative to what he sees as the property-centric analysis of Marxism. He insists that since the economic order is constituted through political decisions, politics can effectively redefine the meaning of ownership. So, for example, in Germany’s current system of industrial relations that combines co-determination, works councils, and collective bargaining with unions, the relative power of employers and employees is very different than in comparable firms in the United States.

Polanyi recognises that these legal arrangements will periodically be contested as some employers yearn for more power and autonomy. But there is nothing that assures that such contestations will be successful; the outcome will depend on which side is able to mobilise more effectively in the political arena.

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Our human development

Karl Marx might have lost the battle, but he has won the war. In the 19th Century, he postulated the primacy of the economic in human affairs. His critics might have rolled back the tide of the “ruling proletariat” that Marx predicted, but his ideas certainly dominated the thoughts of those in charge of every country in the world.

Up to almost the turn of the last century, when one wanted to question how well a country was doing, the answer was always phrased in “economic” terms – for instance the Gross National Product (GNP) or some such metric.

But there were always others who believed that there was more to life than purely the economic. One of them was an economist from Pakistan, Mahbub ul Haq, and another from India, Amartya Sen. Working at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) with other leading development thinkers, they produced the first Human Development Report in 1990. Its basic premise in the opening sentence has guided all subsequent Reports: “People are the real wealth of a nation.”

In the words of al Haq, “The objective of development is to create an enabling environment for people to enjoy long, healthy and creative lives.” Our policymakers would do well to remember this. Last week, the latest UNDP Report was presented and as usual, various spins were put to it to suit their political agendas. But if the focus of the report is “people”, then it is critical that the views of the people be taken into account when their “well-being” is considered.

Looking at the Human Development Index (HDI), we can at least agree that it is a summary measure for assessing long-term progress in three basic dimensions of human development: a long and healthy life, access to knowledge, and a decent standard of living.

Patrick Chesney, local Programme Specialist of the UNDP, at the launching of the Report, advised that policymakers must ask some basic questions. “Is the economic growth improving the lives of people in areas that really matter, from health to education and income, to basic human security and personal freedoms?”

We would like to believe that if Guyanese are honest, they would, in general, answer “yes” to the question, confirming the figures that were thrown out. Take, for instance, life expectancy, which is correlated with better living conditions.

Between 1980 and 2013, Guyana’s life expectancy at birth increased by 5.7 per cent years – but we all know that. Schooling also improves lifestyle choices and here, while we may not know about the mean 2.7 per cent increase in school years, we know more persons are going to school.

Income – the money we earn – is needed to purchase the necessities in life. While money might not make the world go around, few would doubt that it does grease the wheels of life. Using the concept of “purchasing power parity” (PPP) – what a given amount of US dollars can purchase within a particular country – allows a more realistic appraisal of what goods would be available to particular citizens.

On a PPP per capita basis, Guyanese check in at US$6341 versus, say a comparable country like Belize at US$9364 or Suriname at US$15,113. Any Guyanese who have visited these countries would confirm that from a consumer standpoint, the citizens have more goods accessible. This is the reality of being Guyanese. But policymakers have to look beneath descriptions to look for causative factors so that they can suggest implementation strategies designed to improve matters.

From that standpoint, Minister Singh’s point that our GNI decline from US$2315 to US$1312 between 1980 and 1990, showed we were starting from a lower base than the other Caribbean countries. The consistent increase between 1995 and 2013 from US$1312 to US$6341 should suggest that if all Guyanese put their shoulders to the wheel, we can raise our HDI to a level with the best of them.

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The future of the PNC

Today, the Peoples National Congress (PNC), founded in 1958, concludes its 18th Biennial Congress. Whether one is a supporter of the party or not, no one can claim that the PNC is any “Johnny come lately” to the Guyanese political scene. Midwifed by the western powers during the Cold War in 1957, the party ruled Guyana under Burnham for 28 years, during which time it futilely attempted to alter its Faustian bargain.

But by then, even though it had received “critical support” from the People’s Progressive Party (PPP), from which it had split, the country’s economy and society had sunk to levels worse than the pre-independence era. Even as it attempted to “legitimise” its rule through rigged elections, its hold on power was maintained through the creation of a heavily militarised “police state”, as was reiterated by revelations from the ongoing Rodney Commission of Inquiry (CoI).

The end of the Cold War in 1989, removed the raison d’être for the US’s support for the regime and in the “free and fair” elections of 1992, the PPP was returned to office. However, elements in the PNC, such as its former enforcer, Hamilton Green, opposed the new leader’s Desmond Hoyte’s acquiescence to US pressure and the PNC’s loss of power. He and others, viewed as “Burnhamites” were forced out of the party as Hoyte consolidated his control of the party.

While this control was achieved, Hoyte faced persistent criticisms from the general membership for being “aloof and elitist”, while sequestering himself in Congress Place. These charges revealed the old schizoid nature of the PNC: the top layer consisting of the League of Coloured Peoples (LCP), elitist, middle-class elements that saw “leadership” as their birthright and the remainder: the rural and urban African-Guyanese workers, used as pawns.

When the PNC was again defeated in 1997, the PNC under Hoyte launched massive street protests in Georgetown, claiming that the elections were fraudulent. As was the pattern since the 1960s, the elite leaders used the lower-class followers as shock troops to create carnage to intimidate its political opponents.

The protests took a violent turn and reached its nadir when hundreds of Indian Guyanese were beaten on January 12, 1998. The event resuscitated the racial schisms and animosity that had characterised the 1960s.

Even though the PNC-inspired riots precipitated a CariCom intervention that resulted in a two-year truncation of the PPP/C’s term of office through new elections and a new president, the violence not only continued but intensified.

Armed gunmen, based in the PNC stronghold of Buxton, took on the state by killing several dozen policemen and even more innocent civilians. Terroristic actions to force state action had been imported to Guyana by the PNC. This action continued under Hoyte’s successor, Robert Corbin. A new element also entered the society – armed gangs with links to the drug trade “taking sides” in the internecine political struggle.

And it is against this background that the present PNC Congress must be seen. The question on the minds of all Guyanese is, “What kind of PNC will emerge from the conclave?” The answer, of course, depends on the identity of the leader, because notwithstanding the protestations of democratic governance, the PNC has never been able to transcend the legacy of their “Founder-Leader” Forbes Burnham, who straddled the party like a colossus.

David Granger, the front runner in the leadership contest, has shown himself to be from the same elitist mould that characterised all his predecessors. While Corbin was never accepted, he tried valiantly to join the club. Like Corbin, Aubrey Norton is also not cut from the elitist cloth and his challenge from his Linden base has elicited a heavy-handed clampdown from the Granger-dominated party machinery.

From all indications, the Congress will return the “same ole, same ole” recalcitrant PNC.

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Housing and socio-economic change

Over the last five years, there has been massive transformation in the housing and construction sectors in Guyana, with hundreds of thousands of Guyanese benefiting directly from approximately 30,538 house lots distributed.

The transformation of these sectors has also seen some 6991 squatter settlements regularised throughout the country, albeit with varying levels of resistance from those who were ‘settled’ in squatting areas, primarily along Guyana’s coastal belt.

Housing and Water Minister Irfaan Ali himself spearheaded more than 59 one-stop shops, which gave thousands of Guyanese access to several distinct and core services at one venue or another. New housing schemes have been developed and existing schemes rehabilitated and enhanced.

Additionally, thousands of Guyanese have been relieved of the burden of paying exorbitant rent for housing in Guyana, as the Government continues to invest in providing easier access to low-income and middle-income homes. This means that the Housing and Water Ministry has been making a significant contribution toward improving socio-economic conditions in Guyana.

The Ministry has utilised grassroots tactics in rolling out some of the most critical aspects of their work programme with little or no resistance from the populace, even when dealing with illegal land occupation and squatting. In 2009, 4377 lots were distributed while in 2010 6382 were allocated. 2011 saw 8895 being given out while in 2012, 5869 Guyanese benefited. In 2013, 5015 were distributed, despite a total of 6000 being available that year.

Figures for squatter settlement regularisation show that in 2009, 906 settlements were regularised, while in 2010, 1675 received the Ministry’s attention. For 2011, 2073 were regularised, while in 2012, 1737 were made legal. In 2013, some 600 settlements received the Ministry’s attention. Last year, the construction sector accounted for 9.87 per cent of Guyana’s Gross Domestic Product.

The country’s overall growth of 5.5 per cent was led by the construction and housing sector, which recorded 22.6 per cent growth between 2012 and 2013. This was a result of the expansion in private sector construction buoyed by the national housing drive and by commercial construction, including public sector construction projects.

These are remarkable achievements for any Ministry in Government. It is the people who are benefiting directly and there is a significant reduction in the poverty levels, while there is an unprecedented increase in the standard of living of the beneficiaries. The national housing programme therefore is an outstanding example of public policy and private sector support, brought together for the development of the country.

Additionally, banks are now able to offer lower interest rates to borrowers for low-income housing development, as a result of which, millions of dollars are lent to thousands of Guyanese, who in turn use these resources to build their homes.

The low-income window alone has seen billions of dollars injected into the Guyanese economy. In the first quarter of 2013 alone, 366 persons accessed this facility and a total of $690 million was disbursed under this facility alone. Cumulatively at the end of March, there were 3408 borrowers from the financial system and the total amount disbursed by the banking system was $9.3 billion.

The private sector must be lauded for its willingness to lend credit which has grown over the years, adding that for the first quarter of this year, private sector credit has grown.

In total, credit from the commercial bank to the private sector increased from $161.6 billion at the end of December to $163.5 billion at the end of March – a growth of 1.2 per cent in first quarter of this year, building on sustained growth year after year for the last several years.

Despite these gains, the Central Housing and Planning Authority (CHPA) must continue to pursue a massive work programme in 2014 that would see more Guyanese benefiting from an improved land divestment policy, while at the same time being able to access affordable housing through strengthened partnerships.

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Frankenstein’s monster…

…from Linden

Most people are confused about the Frankenstein story. Who exactly was the villain? You see, “Frankenstein” WASN’T the monster, he was the doctor who actually CREATED the monster. And if the truth be told, the doctor was the real villain. After all, whatever evil things the monster did, it wouldn’t have happened if Dr Frankenstein hadn’t created him.

And we arrive at the internecine warfare that’s simmering down in Linden within the PNC camp. And will erupt like a sore full of nasty pus in GT this weekend. Solomon Sharma was created because of the weak and vacillating leadership of David Granger. And this was exposed right after the elections.

Everyone’s jumping up and down like chickens without their heads, accusing President Ramotar of not accepting the “new dispensation” in the National Assembly. They’re conveniently feigning amnesia of the statesmanlike action of Ramotar to constitute a formal body with the leaders of the three parliamentary parties – the Tripartite Talks – to consult on concrete policy initiatives going forward.

From the beginning, the AFC was the spoiler: Ramjattan refused to attend. There was the proposal by the Government to gradually bring the electricity tariffs in Linden up to the national rate.

Granger agreed!!! He extracted his quid pro quo, of course, but he agreed that the entire country must be treated equally. But then like the weak-kneed, invertebrate “leader” he is, he buckled to the racial incitement of the AFC – especially Nigel Hughes, who’d fired up some PNC supporters in the town. Among them being Solomon Sharma, the newly elected Regional 10 Chairman.

Granger was warned by many, when he caved in and went along with the Linden hotheads. We warned that he was creating “warlords” who would act totally to feather their own nests – in the Region – and the devil take the rest of the country – including him and the rest of the PNC. Like most ambitious but myopic politicians, however, Granger went for the short-term gains – and created the monsters. Who’re now devouring him!!

Solomon Sharma is only out to ‘big-up’ himself. He’s challenging not only Granger – but also Aubrey Norton! Norton was the reason the PNC and their candidates – including Solomon – even won their positions. So this monster created by Dr “Frankenstein” David Granger has stabbed Norton in the back. But this is par for the course, with such creatures, no??

Let’s see if Granger’ll survive this monster he has by the tail!

…from Richmond Hill

Poor, pathetic Mike Persaud – the taxi driver from Richmond Hill who’s solved all the problems of Guyana – if only the politicians would listen!!! The solution?? The PNC should make an “Indian” – any Indian!! – their leader and the PPP/C should follow suit with an “African”!! Well, it looks like he might have had a recent epiphany.

After inviting David Granger to dinner in his Queens basement, he wrote a panegyric to his erstwhile guest, who not-so-incidentally is fighting to salvage his short-lived political career as leader of the PNC. Mike thinks Granger IS the man to lead the PNC. But hold it!! Granger isn’t an Indian, is he?? Not to worry: in the words of Mike the “Indian”, Granger is “just like one of us”!!

“I have observed him fraternising among Indo-Guyanese and frankly, I don’t think there was any awareness that this man was of another race. He was just like one of us.” So the PNC don’t need an “Indian” leader no mo. Why!! Granger can pass for one!!

If this doesn’t illustrate the kind of obsequious, brown noser Granger is, to earn this racist, condescending endorsement, nothing else will.

…in Gaza

While the horror unfolds in Gaza, let’s not forget that Israel can do what it wants with impunity because of the influence of the Jewish lobby in the US. Who is the “Frankenstein”? The US or Israel??

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Innovation and entrepreneurship

In yesterday’s editorial, we alluded to management genius Peter Drucker’s seminal work, “Innovation and Entrepreneurship Principles and Practices”, while exhorting our educators not to dilly dally in introducing the new CAPE subject “Entrepreneurship”.

Today, we publish excerpts from the paper, “Innovation and Entrepreneurship in a Global Economy”, which was published last year in the “Journal of Business Management and Social Sciences Research”. It expatiates on the present understanding of what constitutes “innovation and entrepreneurship” today:

“Wikipedia defines innovation as simply ‘a new way of doing something’. It may refer to incremental, radical and revolutionary changes in thinking, products, processes or organisations. A distinction is typically made between invention, an idea made manifest, and innovation, ideas applied successfully. Peter Drucker viewed innovation as the tool or instrument used by entrepreneurs to exploit change as an opportunity.

“He argued that innovation, as a discipline, is capable of being learned, as well as practised. While he never agreed to a theory of innovation, he realised enough was known to develop it as a practice – a practice based on when, where and how one looks systematically for (innovative) opportunities and how one judges the chances for their success or the risks of their failure.

“From Drucker’s perspective, systematic innovation consisted of the purposeful and organised search for changes, and in the systematic analysis of the opportunities such changes might offer for economic or social innovation.

“Since Drucker’s time, new ideas about innovation have emerged. One researcher referred to “indigenous innovation” – the development of a collective type of learning within the organisation. The strategy driving the innovation, he argued, was set in motion socially rather than process-driven. He believed that the pursuit of innovation required much more than taking up a practical course of action.

“Another offshoot is “disruptive innovation,” which improves a product or service in ways that the market does not expect. Coined in 1995, disruptive innovations are predominantly intimidating to existing market leaders, because they represent competition coming from an unexpected direction. The concept of disruptive innovation carries on a long practice of recognising radical technical change in the study of innovation by economists.

“A little over 200 years ago, French economist JB Say remarked, ‘The entrepreneur shifts economic resources out of an area of lower and into an area of higher productivity and greater yield’. But, who is this entrepreneur Say speaks of?

In the United States, an entrepreneur was defined as “one who starts his own, new and small business,” although Drucker noted that not every new small business is entrepreneurial or represents entrepreneurship. Also, not every entrepreneurial business is innovative.

Drucker identified entrepreneurs as people who see ‘change’ as the standard, echoing Heraclitus of Ephesus, the Greek philosopher who said, ‘The only constant in life is change’. Entrepreneurs regard change as essential and welcome it as beneficial to the lives of big corporations and small businesses alike.

However, the kind of change implied here, Drucker clarified, is typically not the kind that can be brought about simply by deciding to create it. Rather, it is created by entrepreneurs who actively go looking for existing change in order to exploit it.

One example Drucker presented was the entrepreneurial genius behind the early days of McDonald’s. The truth was Ray Kroc never invented anything. In fact, hamburgers, French fries and soda had been available for years. Kroc simply asked the question, ‘How does our customer define value’? Once he had the answer, he developed, standardised and branded it. That, Drucker believed, represented entrepreneurial instinct at its best. In terms of innovation and entrepreneurship Drucker added, ‘Above all it needs to be based on purposeful information’.”

The truth of the matter is that in Guyana we are only “muddling through” by doing only “what we know”. We have not consciously set out to create individuals who are innovators and entrepreneurs. We must begin now.

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Missing the education boat

Yesterday, there were two articles published together in this newspaper, through pure serendipity: “Local businesses must focus on innovation – GCCI forum hears”, and “Top schools ‘iffy’ about new CAPE subjects rollout…despite Education Ministry’s optimism”. One of the “new” CAPE subjects that is most iffy is “Entrepreneurship”. On one hand, the cry from the business community is “more innovation” and from our education system, there is vacillation on the readiness to teach “Entrepreneurship” in the 6th Forms.

Yet almost 30 years ago, the management giant, Peter Drucker, who was literally worshipped in Japan for providing most of the conceptual tools that made them into economic world beaters, published his seminal work, “Innovation and Entrepreneurship: Principles and Practices”. He outlined the seminal nexus between these two concepts and postulated that unless they were fostered and connected, countries in the 21st century would be unable to lift themselves out of poverty, much less compete in the global economy.

Yet in Guyana, there is lassitude about finally imparting the fundamentals of “entrepreneurship” into the minds of our youth. When the British ended slavery, they introduced an educational system that was designed to keep the descendants of slaves and indentured slaves in an inferior status. We were to be the “hewers of wood and drawers of water” to keep the local representatives of the Empire in comfort, and the plantocracy wealthy.

At the very best we were to be the clerks in the civil service. The economy was kept in the hands of the “agents” based in Britain, which simply sold goods produced in the “Mother Country”. “Business”, to us natives, was simply “buying and selling” – preferably buying from the aforementioned “Mother Country”.

The highest education, as the article on the lagging CAPE introduction pointed out, focused on the Classics – including Latin and Greek. We could not produce a needle, but we could, like Burnham, Guyana’s scholar from Queens in 1942, parse the difference between “casus belli” and “causa belli”.

This mis-education of the natives was part of a deliberate policy that furthered what Dr Walter Rodney and others was to label the “underdevelopment” of the colonies. Generations of the descendants of ex-slaves were blamed for not having a “business head” – even though whatever enterprise they might have had in Africa had been brutally beaten out of them. And the “education” they had to imbibe was intended to make them accept their “lot”.

In the post-emancipation period, their economic progress lagged behind the immigrants who had two advantages: the virtues of deferred gratification and planning for the future, qualities that slavery made ironic, in denying them the right to property. The immigrants had arrived with the conscious drive for economic advancement. Modern African-West Indians to the US, for instance, are as industrious and entrepreneurial minded in their new milieu as any other group.

In the post-Independence era, while the founding fathers recognised the need for “education”, all too often, it was a perpetuation of the old British curriculum. One hundred and sixty years after Queens College was founded, it still teaches French rather than Entrepreneurship. But one will be told that the latter subject will not be taught because it is a “science” school. One is left to ponder the “scientific” content of French.

The Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) is one of the most successful institutions to have emerged in the elusive goal of a functional Caribbean unity. Gradually, they have built a most credible reputation on the subjects they introduced at CSEC and CAPE to replace the London GCE “O” and “A” Levels. Their introduction of Entrepreneurship as one of five new subjects including Agricultural Science, Performing Arts, Physical Education and Sport, and Tourism are obviously geared towards making education more relevant to our pressing needs.

We hope the Education Ministry will ensure our schools are ready by the new school year.

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Cricket in nation building

There is the cliché, “Sports: it’s not just a game!” The three games played by the Guyana Amazon Warriors during the last week proved in so many ways, that like all clichés, it expresses an almost universal truth. That is why expressions become clichéd.

For such a small nation as ours, commentators of all persuasions have been forced to remark on the deleterious impact of our “divisiveness”. Of recent, there has been greater openness in accepting that our salient cleavage, as far as negative outcomes are concerned, is “ethnicity”. Even those who cleave to ideologies such as Marxism, which denies the “reality” of such divisions and once dubbed it “false consciousness”, have been forced to grapple with its salience.

The question posed is: “What is it that can make us see past our ethnic divisions and begin to act and work as a nation that accepts its fate as the fruits of a collective endeavour?” There have been several proposals – not the least being the said ideologies undergirding the programmes of most of the political parties in the post WWII era and operationalised in their activities in and out of Government. Most kindly, they can all be said to have “failed”.

Like most human behavioural patterns, ethnic salience is not the result of any one factor, and as a corollary, it cannot be addressed through any one “silver bullet”. But what we do know is that ethnicity is an affective orientation – much of its salience is not due to the “rational choice” premise of the social sciences, but also on emotions and feelings. And one of the ways to move past its gravitational pull, without necessarily invalidating its relevance for identity, is to cultivate positive emotions in the populace as a whole, around events that are not tied to ethnicity.

And this is where sport, in general, and cricket, in particular, comes in. Cricket is not a game tied to any one group in Guyana, or even in the wider Caribbean. It is the game of all our people. In that remarkable book of his, “Beyond the Boundary”, CLR James exposed us to the deep and wide wellsprings of the game in our psyches. And during the aforementioned three games at the National Stadium,Providence by the Warriors, the truth of James’ epiphany came alive.

Guyanese of all ethnicities became as one when they cheered, fretted, screamed and waved their flags for THEIR team. They wore the Warriors colours to identify with their talisman. Strangers hugged and gave high fives when victory came; and consoled each other (“they did their best”) when victory was finally denied.

Cricket demonstrated that we can be united. What we would like to suggest is that the Government must design a national sport policy, with cricket at its centre, as an integral part of our overall thrust to create “One People, One Nation, One Destiny”.

While it may be claimed that we do, in fact, have a “sports policy”, in our estimation, as executed in practice, it does not demonstrate adequate acceptance of the vital importance of sport in the holistic development of the individual, the community and the nation. And, especially of its importance in transcending cleavages, of all types. The Football World Cup in Brazil recently demonstrated the effect of another “national sport” in bringing together a nation of 200 million. Imagine what a focused, national programme in cricket can do for us.

One immediate action by a Government pushing cricket in a national sports programme is to make the game part of the school curriculum from nursery to university. As shown by the success of the Limacol Caribbean Premier League (CPL), modern cricket is big business and can be significant contributors to the GDP, as any of the “traditional” industries.

In the language of the economists, the transcendence of ethnic boundaries can eventually become merely a positive “externality”.

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Traducing the law

In Charles Dickens’ “Oliver Twist”, the court advises Mr Bumble, “… the law supposes that your wife acts under your direction”. The henpecked husband then blurted out, “If the law supposes that, the law is a ass.” The point being, of course, that sometimes there are people who apply the law contrary to all common sense. With its complaint to the Police about the Minister of Finance on spending “unauthorised monies” the Alliance For Change (AFC) is determined to make the law in Guyana, “an ass”.

This move on their part is very unfortunate since ordinary citizens can easily develop a cynicism about our system of law and order, as they have already done with the political system, after the gymnastics routinely practised, by the Opposition. If the AFC were ignorant, unlettered denizens of the forest – feral or otherwise – they may be excused. But with several aspiring “Senior Counsels” in their leadership corps, their behaviour begs the question as to their motives.

The underlying facts are simple and undisputed. The Minister of Finance, on behalf of the Government of Guyana as specified by the Constitution, brought the Budget known as the “Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure” for the current year, to Parliament at the end of March. These “Estimates of Expenditure” represented the Executive’s projected spending for the year in pursuit of its programme on which it was elected to office.

After the Opposition excised a whopping $37.4 billion from the original allocation of $220 billion, the Minister of Finance immediately signalled that as was done in the previous two years, monies for critical areas that were excised would have to be found. “I can assure that action is imminent… we intend to be guided by the Constitution and statutory provision and by the Acting Chief Justice’s ruling to address the budget cuts and any instance of appropriations being inadequate to meet a public purpose.”

Under Article 218(3) of the Constitution, the Minister has the authority to spend “in excess” of what had been appropriated to meet the aforementioned “public purpose”. In both 2012 and 2013, the Minister had returned to Parliament, spelled out the additional spending and received approval. As the Minister pointed out, “The instrument of the Statement of Excess has been used in the Parliament before, in fact the same Opposition that is now speaking about disrespect for the Parliament and speaking about wanting to make a report to the Police… What they are not saying is that they themselves, in the Parliament controlled by them, have approved previous Statement of Excess; this Statement of Excess going to Parliament is not the first Statement of Excess that has gone to the Parliament, is not the second or third, it is the fourth Statement of Excess to be considered by this Parliament in 2012.”

In addition to the authority conferred by precedence to the Government on “excess spending”, Article 220:1 of the Constitution explicitly provides for the Finance Minister to make advances from the Contingencies Fund if there is an urgent need for expenditure for which no other provision exists. Section 41 of the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act of 2003 gives the Finance Minister the “sole authority” to release monies from the Contingencies Fund.

Even though Latin is no longer taught in Guyana, Guyanese have become familiar with the distinction between “casus belli” – the “occasion for the war” – and “causa belli” – the “real reason for the war”. The AFC and A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) are using the $4.5 billion spent to fund the Government programmes chopped by them from the Budget to simply justify the declaration of war to oust the Government through their threatened “no-confidence” motion.

But they did not have to go through all this rigmarole: they always had that option. They are simply trying to justify their politics of expedience, even if it makes the highest law of the land, “an ass”.

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Opposition day of infamy

Friday marked the second anniversary of the Opposition-sponsored protests in Linden that saw their Leaders encouraging Lindeners to illegally occupy the critical bridge connecting the coastland to the interior, and in effect, cutting off that region from the rest of the country.

This was the conclusion of the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) that investigated the protests, which resulted in the deaths of three protestors after billions had gone up in smoke – including the largest primary school in the region – and business in the community had ground to a halt.

That CoI was assembled at great cost to this country. The government acquiesced to the opposition’s demand for a dominant foreign component. The chairman and two of the commissioners were eminent jurists from the Caribbean Community (CariCom). The government went along because they wanted justice not only to be done, but for it to also be seen as done.

It is critical that Guyanese remember the conclusions about what can only be described as an Opposition “Day of Infamy”, so that present-day efforts of that same Opposition to repeat it are rejected.

The CoI explained the genesis of the illegal protests. “The Lindeners applied to the appropriate regional police authority for permission and received same with conditions attached to ensure that the rights of the citizens were balanced. The evidence revealed that the conditions were breached and therein was the birth of the ensuing problems.”

The CoI was not shy about naming the Opposition instigators for “breaching” the law. “It is noteworthy that a Member of Parliament (Desmond Trotman) who was at the scene on July 18 when much of this was taking place or had already taken place stubbornly refused to accept that the protesters had resorted to unlawful means to carry out what would otherwise have been a lawful endeavour.”

APNU Member of Parliament and Regional Chairman Sharma Solomon and another APNU Member of Parliament Vanessa Kissoon, admitted that they knew they were encouraging protesters to do something illegal.

Yet, “both Assistant Superintendent Walter Stanton and Senior Superintendent Clifton Hicken testified that they approached Aubrey Norton, Lincoln Lewis and Kissoon to have the protesters leave the bridge, but without success. Assistant Superintendent Stanton further stated that he overheard the activists, Norton, Kissoon and Dr David Hinds, encouraging the protesters to remain on the bridge as it was a just cause.”

The CoI had no hesitation in concluding bluntly: “The organisers of the protest must accept some responsibility for what subsequently transpired on July 18, 2012.” And yet, just two years later, as if the entire nation is suffering from collective amnesia, the Opposition are trumpeting tributes to “the Linden Martyrs” without even a passing reference to their seminal role in the tragedy.

The role of the Police was also examined, especially after the Chairman of the AFC, in his role as a lawyer for some of the relatives of the deceased, claimed that the Minister of Home Affairs had given instructions directly to the police, prior to the shootings. In reference to those shootings, the bullets that killed the three men were proven by an independent expert, brought in by the AFC, not to be of the type used by the police. There wasn’t even circumstantial evidence for proving the police’s “guilt.”

But in what appears to be an act of mercy for the deceased the CoI, not bound by the strict rules of a court of law, said the police were “responsible” only because they could not find evidence of any other persons firing guns. In this way, the state could provide compensation to the survivors and estate of those killed, which it did.

But the AFC, which was the original instigator of the Linden tragedy, has not learnt anything. It went on to provoke riots in Agricola and most recently protests by rice farmers in Essequibo. Let us not forget the lessons of history.

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