The Rockefeller name mightn’t mean much to Guyanese nowadays. But not too long ago that name was the metaphor for WEALTH in the modern world just as Croesus was in the ancient world… and it’s not just “Rockefeller Center” with its skating rink we might see in Midtown Manhattan. Their wealth was founded on oil – first in Pennsylvania and then in Saudi Arabia. Their “Standard Oil” became “Esso” (“S.O.” – get it?) that then became “Exxon” that became ExxonMobil.
Even though they mightn’t be such big deals in a world now populated with the likes of billionaires Bill Gates and Mark Zukerberg, they do have a helluva lot of clout with the crime de la crime of the Wall Street Masters of the Universe – who make the trillion dollar investments that make the world go round. Their Chase Manhattan Bank became a big part of JPMorganChase – the largest bank in the world with US$3 trillion in assets! The trusts they set up to keep their wealth all in the family fund – and not just the Rockefeller Fund – have probably even more influence through “soft power” of their philanthropic activities and fund raising parties.
So when the Rockefeller Foundations announced they are pulling out their investments in ExxonMobil, it’s like the foundation under a skyscraper being undermined. The Rockefellers announced they will now be backing renewables – which ExxonMobil has shunned, unlike the other majors like British Shell. Your Eyewitness had already pontificated on the folly of Exxon to follow in the path of the captain of the Titanic and yell, “Full steam ahead” in petroleum.
Exxon, of course, has not only been burying its head in the sand, it’s been throwing some of that sand in the investment world’s eyes when they hid data of the impact of fossil fuel consumption on global warming. The Rockefeller family had made noises then – even as the NY District Attorney was readying chances against the company that will result in billions in fines.
Following the commitment of COP 21 to renewables, the refusal of Saudi Arabia to back off from the Shale Oil challenge, and the plunge in oil prices, Exxon stocks have taken a beating. Shareholders aren’t going to take too kindly to the dumping of the company’s stock by the “founding family”.
Now all of this might just be of academic interest if it weren’t for the fact that most of our hopes on getting our oil out from under the sea, rests with ExxonMobil. That company has to look more closely on its investments.
If ours remain marginal even at US$50 – we’re in big trouble.
…and old Sawakie? Or Sakiwinkie?
After 22 years as Mayor of Georgetown – during which time he brought the City down to its nadir of filth and corruption (they probably go hand in hand) – and now 82 years old, you’d think it was time for Hamilton Green to be put out to pasture, wouldn’t you? Especially since he’s just been booted out by the citizens of Georgetown the first chance they got at voting for their Mayor in the said 22 years.
Well… think again. The powers-that-be have now placed him in charge of the Central Housing and Planning Authority (CH&PA) – the body that controls all the government’s housing, planning and executing for the country!
Why? Well because he was once “Minister of Housing” (the Stabber reports). Green says it’s because he’s a “Sawakie” (they mean “Sakawinkie – an “old head”!) What a crock! Housing then and housing now are like mud huts and skyscrapers… not even in the same league.
Green probably has the goods on someone on the Rodney assassination!
…and economic growth
Some old head over at COHSOD figures our “culture” might turn our economic tide. He REALLY thinks our “wining” can compete with the newly emergent Cuba with its rhumba, salsa, samba and cha-Cha-cha?
…and “prior claims”
Obama evidently intends to ensure that whoever enters the White House next January – especially if it’s the Republicans with Trump at its helm – won’t be able to reverse the normalisation of relations with Cuba. If you look at that relationship, you have to wonder why the US would allow such a bit player – and that’s all Cuba is compared to it – to get so much under its skin. But then again an American President (Reagan) invaded 132-sq mile Grenada with its less than 100,000 population for being a threat! Go figure!
But back to the “normalisation”. The biggest fly in the ointment to complete normalisation will be the “prior claims” made subsequent to Castro’s nationalisation and expropriation of American property back in 1960. American companies owned sugar plantations, oil refineries, shipping companies, hotels (including a Hilton), casinos, houses, cars, land, etc, etc. In fact, the American justification for the embargo it slapped on Cuba rests mainly on these claims. For years there have been several initiatives – some launched by get-rich shysters, but others like Exxon’s and Hilton’s – legit.
Back in 1964, the US created a “Foreign Claims Settlement Commission” within its Justice Department and evaluated, recorded and vowed to collect on the various claims (5913 of them) which it valued at US$1.9B. Factoring for inflation, these claims would be worth about US$8B today. Now Cuba’s never denied it owes compensation on the claims – even though it could’ve questioned the deals through which most of the assets were acquired. The then Cuban dictatorships were supported by the US Government, which turned a blind eye to the economic and physical raping of Cuba – especially by the Mafia.
The Cuban retort to the “prior claims” question has been to issue a counter claim for the more than US$100B it calculated it’s lost since 1960 because of the American embargo – which even US allies at the UN have demanded for years be removed. Since the State Department has jurisdiction over the settlement of the claims, if Obama doesn’t want to saddle Cuba with the ball-and-chain of “prior claims”, it should proceed to work out a settlement that’s favourable to both sides.
For Cuba’s economic development – which is heading ineluctably in a capitalist direction – the Government wouldn’t want to have liens hanging over so many assets. They will definitely stifle investment. On the other hand, there is no way Cuba can fork out US$8B.
Maybe as the IMF does with ‘bad loans’, a steep discount could be worked out – like 4 cents to the dollar?
And Cuba floats bonds to pay it off?
…and the Caribbean
Of recent, Foreign Minister Greenidge – who’d rather be leader of the PNC and consequently President – has been rather quiet. What with all the brouhaha over the economy (who’s steering the ship?) and salaries and suchlike, you’d think he’d be weighing in more often. But anyhow he just broke his (vow of?) silence…to claim the US-Cuban thaw will be good for us in the Caribbean? It might’ve been better if he’d stayed quiet.
First of all, because of the romanticisation of the American presence in Cuba – for the elite, think Hemmingway; for the rest, think the Mafia of the “Godfather II”, casinos and Meyer Lansky – the island looms large in their collective imagination. If for nothing else there will be another (more benign) landing of tourists at the Bay of Pigs who’ll move on to ogle all those “finned” cars from the fifties. Say goodbye to a rebirth of US tourism to “our” Caribbean.
Then there are the business investments – where Cuba’s certain to become the next “emerging market”.
Say goodbye to a resurgence of a Caribbean Basin Initiative.
Even though Obama genuflected to the American right-wing yahoos by not meeting Fidel, the latter’s 1953 prediction that “history will absolve me” was reinforced by the visit.
Seems like crime’s always in the news in Guyana. Of one kind or another. But based on our experience – and that of a whole lot of other jurisdictions – one thing’s true for sure – with the economy tanking and poverty rising, crime’s gonna go through the roof. The question is what’re we doing about it? Well, for one, you’d think the Government would be focusing on reversing the slide in the economy, wouldn’t you?
If you did think that, you just wasted a thought. All the money the Government’s been spending has nothing to do with increasing production in even a single sector – but rather aggravating a restive populace. This Eyewitness is not one to excuse crime because of poverty…but jeez…shouldn’t the Government and its Ministers set an example if some belt-tightening’s called for?
What exactly do you tell folks who’re being thrown on the breadline every day when to have the President pay taxes – which everyone else but the SG and the Chancellor does – the Finance Minister announces whatever money is deducted, must be taken right back and given to the President as a “raise”. Just so he can take home the $1.8 million every month he’s used to drawing.
But partisans of the Government will say the Government HAS been creating jobs. A relaunched People’s Militia will create…what?…1500 part-time jobs? Then we have the boosting of the Police and Army. Another 590 jobs? Then those 500 contract jobs in the Public Service – above and beyond the thousands the PPP had farmed out. Those are jobs, no?
Problem is…while those jobs may well be for the national weal, they don’t produce a smidgen of goods we could export and bring in foreign exchange for all the foreign things we just can’t do without anymore. (Like “Can Meat and Can vegetables”.) So what you end up with is the Government printing Guyana dollars to pay the bloated staff. And of course, with too much money chasing too many (foreign) goods, inflation takes off. Which further impoverishes the people at the bottom since their emaciated paychecks can’t even buy what they could yesterday.
So we’re back to the dilemma of the poor: do they follow the straight and narrow or do they take matters into their own hands and grab what they see others enjoying. This poverty-crime didn’t just arrive on the scene.
And whether we’re sympathetic or not to the argument that “structural factors” make some break the law…we’ll have to deal with the consequences.
Which ain’t gonna be pretty.
And we arrive at the other hot topic that just had its 15 minutes of fame – punishment of those who may’ve committed crimes. We can’t say “criminals” because, as we discovered (hopefully to our chagrin), a whole lot of people in jail aren’t convicted. They’re on “remand”…but are being punished already. So we come to the whole rationale for “punishment” of criminals.
We’d all agree there has to be some discouragement for people to break the law. And we’re not even going to get into the argument as to whether the law is stacked against the poor and powerless. Point of the matter is we can’t go back to the law of the jungle. But we gotta do something – especially for those folks on remand who have to be assumed to be guilty until proven otherwise.
We just heard night courts will be reinstated. We won’t ask, why only now. Just that it shouldn’t be a flash in the pan – but a permanent feature of our judicial system. Then there’s the matter of the family court.
Seems like a judicial family matter torpedoed it!
It’s not only the Executive that’s getting directions from the Saffon Street Muckraker. The Judiciary’s now being instructed on what constitutes crimes, who committed them and what their punishment should be.
Shouldn’t the Legislature also hang up their gloves?
Your Eyewitness is sorely troubled at what’s playing out in our giant neighbour to the South – Brazil. And it’s not just his favourite escapism exercise this year – the Summer Olympics in Rio – might be affected. Hey!! We can’t afford to have Bolt’s last Olympic ruined, can we? And it’s not even the massive outbreak of Zika that’s also putting a damper on the aforementioned Olympics.
It’s the massive goings on in the country to bring down the government of President Dilma Rousseff that has your Eyewitness in a bit of a dither. A stable, democratic and prosperous Brazil, after all, offers a lifeline to our prosperity that goes far beyond being a counterweight to Venezuelan revanchism. Not that we should sneer… Brazil’s always resented Venezuela’s pretensions at strutting on the world stage – and checkmated them.
It’s not even our Lethem-Linden Highway and the Mazaruni-Cuyuni HydroPower being threatened with another half century of mothballing. And THAT’s not to be sneered at! Not… it has to do with your Eyewitness’ wider geopolitical crystal ball becoming all fogged up. With the US finally thawing relations with Cuba, all the reports coming out in the media, reminds us of the similarities between Cuba, Venezuela and Cuba back in the 1950s. They were all pretty much under the control of tyrants or oligarchs that toed the American line.
While Castro’s direct threat to turn Latin American “leftwards” faltered (or was crushed after the death of Che Gueverra) that’s the direction the continent DID turn – but through democratic elections three decades later. So the problem with the agitation to remove Dilma (and her mentor Lula) – and not so incidentally Maduro in Venezuela – is they aren’t led by forces that have exactly the best pedigree in democratic governance.
Now this isn’t saying that charges of corruption in funnelling funds from the state petroleum company Petrobras into Dilma and Lula’s party aren’t well founded. But most of their inquisitors wouldn’t be able to withstand the kind of scrutiny they’re imposing on their two targets. How do you deal with the Judge trying to try Lula leaking confidential conversations between the latter and Dilma?
And from a Guyanese perspective, it’s not in our interest to be surrounded by countries that’re sure to polarise the relations between “the haves and the have nots” even further than they already are. What would most likely happen is many of those said “have nots” from Brazil’s impoverished north (neighbouring us) might just decide to cross over to our side of the Takatu and “do their thing”
And it won’t be pretty… what with the drugs, guns and gang wars.
…in corporate ownership?
Basking in the halo of bringing off Local Government Elections (LGEs), Pressie made a rather surprising suggestion. Rightfully pointing out that the Local Democratic Organs (LDOs) – NDCs and Municipalities – will now be permitted to raise and spend more funds on their own without Central Government’s intrusion, he proposed LDO’s launch and run businesses!!
“Shades of the Co-Op Republic!” your humble Eyewitness involuntarily exclaimed. “Government’s gonna be owning businesses again?” What’s going to be different this time? Because the ownership will be at a lower level, the problems will be smaller? Business doesn’t work like that.
This Eyewitness thinks before this becomes a done deal like the Arthur Chung Convention Centre, Pressie should have it examined… carefully. A more feasible proposal… suggests your most humble Eyewitness… would be for those LGOs to move all those small businesses – car bodywork shops; grill fabricators; chicken farms; furniture makers, etc etc into small industrial parks and institute appropriate fees and taxes.
That move will make residential areas more habitable and healthy – while generating more revenues and synergies at the local level.
What’s this claim of crossover voting? With only 38 per cent of the voters turning out… how’d you know? Well… you could look at the voting breakdown in mono-ethnic constituencies.
And THAT went “race” down the line.
Looks like there will be more analyses and commentaries on our long-awaited LGE than the folks who actually turned out to vote. There was a lovely little cat fight between the GECOM Chairman (GC) and Commissioner Shaddick as to who was responsible for the abysmally low turnout. It went like this: Shaddick: “It’s GECOM’s fault!”; GC: “No! It’s the politicians’ fault!”; Shaddick: “Not so!”; GC: “Is too!” Loop and run this exchange about ten times and you’ll get an idea of the scintillating “call and response” routine.
Funny thing is – they were both right. (Your Eyewitness feels “Solomonic” this morning! Oh! For just half of the old codger’s wives!) GECOM did wait until it was too late in the day. And as was said before in this space, placed all its “voters’ education” eggs in the print media basket. We just don’t have a massive reading public. TV shows explaining what local government is all about… demonstrating what the voting form looked like…how to place the X’s and what happens when there are no “second half” of the form, might’ve been a better bet.
But once the political parties decided to enter the fray, they too should’ve gone out and done all of the above…but on the ground. No, so incidentally they could’ve also gotten in their licks. They waited until it was too late since, as the GC said, it was no secret LGE have notoriously low turnout rates.
Well, your Eyewitness hopes all this analysis doesn’t lead to paralysis in realising the great promise of Local Government in practice. And what’s this promise you ask, Dear Reader? Well that each of one us become masters of our fates and captains of our destiny in our neighbourhoods, thank you. Your garbage not getting picked up? Talk to your Constituency Rep. Ditto if that dead donkey’s been rotting at the head of the street and is about to explode.
So the more pertinent question is now we’ve gotten what we asked for (we did ask for LGE, didn’t we?)…who’s going to educate us, the hoi polloi, as to the implications of our new dawn? If we leave it to the political parties, they’ll simply be using the opportunity to build cadres and support for 2020. And intensifying our political divide.
GECOM should undertake this task and hopefully for the 2019 LGE, the exercise might finally end national politics dictating even whether our drains will be cleaned – and us not protesting even though we’re paying rates and taxes.
LGE might’ve delivered “victories” to the parties, but they can yet deliver victory to the people. It’s a two-edged sword.
…in the municipalities
Now that APNU’s won all the big municipalities, all eyes will be on them to put their money where their mouth is. Which is – to keep on improving Georgetown; move Bartica from its frontier “Wild West” anything-goes state, bring on Mahdia, etc. But as they “put” that money…they’ll have to do better than what they’ve been doing in Georgetown.
Even Stevie Wonder would admit Georgetown’s a much cleaner city today. But even he also would wonder (yes…yes…pun intended!) as to where all that money for the clean-up coming from, where’s it going and how about nailing all those rumours of friends and families of the Town Clerk and town Councillors using wheelbarrows to rake in their takings? Towns, after all, shouldn’t be excused from accountability and transparency and all the other excesses the PPP was accused of by APNU when THEY were in office, should they?
Ah well… It’s the dawning of a whole new age…and we’ll find out soon what’s it all about, won’t we, Alfie?
So how do we weigh the cachet of shopping like “foreign” at Massy versus throwing thousands of our neighbourhood shopkeepers and their help out of work and into the streets?
We all know Guyana’s sorely in need of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). All our traditional export products have crashed for one reason or another – sugar – prices; rice – drought and markets; bauxite – China’s slowdown etc…etc. Not unexpectedly, the economy’s moribund. But is a mega-supermarket the kind of FDI we really need?
What exactly will the claimed US$24 million supermarket the Trinidadian company Massy just opened at Providence, do for our economy? Replace rice and sugar with the promised100 jobs? You’re kidding, right dear reader? Those two industries contribute to the upkeep of at least 200,000 men, women and children. Right now, selling groceries is the last thing we need in Guyana. Every street corner in the villages gave their mom-and pop groceries…and small supermarkets are already giving them a run for their money.
And in the towns? Well, don’t we already have supermarkets? Massy’s might be massive – but what exactly will they sell that’s not already available in Guyana. Twenty kinds of ketchup? What’s this nonsense about buying and selling “Guyanese Products” – and showing the Finance Minister “fingling” same sweet potatoes? Why can’t Massy develop that Plantain Chip factory Leguan’s crying out for? Why underdevelop us further? Is there a Guyanese who can’t get sweet potatoes? Or is the one-stop shopping rich elite not going to be visiting the “ground provision” vendors on Merriman Mall.
Oh…we forget…Massy’s not going to put THEM out of business… Town Clerk King already did that with his 500 per cent rental increase for a smaller stall to the said vendors. But back to Massy Supermarket. We have to admit, they tried every which way to sound Guyanese. Did you see the sign over one aisle announcing “Can Meat” and “Can Vegetables” rather than “Canned Meat and Canned Vegetables” – which we Guyanese NEVER say?
But seriously folks? Can you hear that sucking sound your Eyewitness picked up on the moment he saw the Massey Supermarket? That’s the sound of Massy sucking out dollars from Guyana that would’ve been circulating and creating virtuous circles in “buying and selling” here. And it’s not just dollars – it’s AMERICAN DOLLARS. Businesses in Trinidad are restricted from buying US dollars – they have to go through the Central Bank like we used to do back in the “Burnham Days”.
So in addition to siphoning off all those West Coast, West Bank and East Bank wealthier grocery shoppers, that sucking sound you hear will be Massy siphoning off US dollars to Trinidad and pushing up our exchange rate.
It’s not totally coincidental the sucking sound we all know up to now is water being flushed down the toilet. Same difference!
OK…the LGE results are in. And all it did was confirm that race politics – represented by the supporters of the two major parties – is also alive and well at the local level. There was a faint hope by some – including this Eyewitness – that away from the hotbed of national politics which determines who runs the country, the racial imperative might lose some of its intensity. Not this time though.
With 20/20 hindsight, once the two big guns entered the fray in their own names (what’d you think? Folks don’t know APNU is PNC. Steewps!!) It was a foregone conclusion. In some uni-racial constituencies, the “other side” didn’t even bother to field a candidate.
But one big surprise – at least to this Eyewitness – is how some candidates were wiped out following Pressie’s “don’t split the vote” call. For instance Benschop.
With the drubbing he got after his years of activism…can he come back?
…and protecting locals
India’s faced with the same invasion of supermarkets threatening their millions of local shops. But having allowed in one set of merchants – The East India Company – who ended up taking over the country for Britain – India’s placed controls on their entry.
A hint to Beneba mek Quasie tek notice!
Used to be, the fear was “suppose you threw a party and nobody came?” After yesterday, it’ll be “suppose you hold an election and no one voted?” During the past few weeks everyone conceded turnouts in LGE’s are generally low… but no one expected it to be THIS low. In some jurisdictions they make voting compulsory… maybe we ought to go that route?
But upon reflection, the snarky tone isn’t fair to the Guyanese electorate. After all they haven’t experienced an LGE for almost a quarter of a century – and social acts like voting have to be inculcated with practice, over time. And even with those old enough to’ve voted in 1994… that facility would have atrophied over the generational span. If Lamarck thought “organs not in use tend to degenerate”, imagine what happens to socially imparted habits?
And that’s the problem for our entire democratic culture, isn’t it? During the British days, we “natives” were told we just weren’t ready for the weighty task of making democratic decisions. Never mind right after slavery, ex-slaves founded the Village Movement and ran their affairs in totally democratic fashion. While we were being tutored, our rulers had to do double duty and do what was best for us. Like stymieing the Village Movement that was too “radical”. They asked questions like why should their taxes clean the sugar plantations’ canals and not theirs? Such upstarts! Ruling was a dirty, thankless job, but somebody (responsible) had to do it, no?
During the PNC’s 28 years at the helm of state, they also thought the small man really didn’t know what it took to be the “real man” to run his own affairs. His destiny had to be “moulded” since he didn’t know what was good for him. So all the village councils were disbanded and absorbed into “Neighbourhood Democratic Councils”.
Can you believe in some instances villages strung along the public road for five to nine miles being called a “neighbourhood”? Well the villagers didn’t… but what did they know? But the bottom line was ordinary folks got nothing out of “local government” for more than 30 years… and just saw it as a boondoggle for local Caesars.
So after years of struggle between our two political mountains they produced the framework for the present LGE. The populace might be forgiven for giving it a great, big yawn. They’re suffering from “ennui – a feeling of listlessness and dissatisfaction arising from a lack of occupation or excitement”.
But your Eyewitness isn’t so jaded. He’s at least looking out to see the promised “new dawn” of LGE from this morning. Will his street be asphalted, at last?
…over for WI cricket?
The massive blowout of England by the WI team in their ICC T-20 World Cup match has local fans over the top. It almost made us (yes…”us”. Your Eyewitness is what the English call a “cricket tragic”…he lives and dies with the fortunes of the WI team.) forget for a while, the devastation and humiliation the WICB wrought in our once proud cricketing record.
And yes, your Eyewitness is laying the blame squarely at the feet of the WICB. Going back to the pretensions of the British, the WICB inherited and maintained the worse sense of entitlement of the old colonial Boards. The players were supposed to simply doff their caps to the Board who would make all decisions about who could play and how, where and against whom their cricket was going to be played.
This confounded nonsense must stop. Even while revelling at the chance of the WI going all the way, we must back the Caricom Committee to reconstitute the WICB!
…at government sell out
During the elections campaign, we know the mega millions Glen “Mohan” Lall’s “Funding a United Candidate for Opposition Presidency” (FUCOP) pumped into the coalition had to be repaid.
But are radio and TV licences now legal tender?