"The conscientious withdrawal of efficiency" - Sabotage in Guyana
By Dr. Ken Danns
SABOTAGE has been an enduring plague in the body of the Guyanese nation, critically compromising its development. To sabotage is to disrupt, interrupt, obstruct, incapacitate, damage and in other ways cause pernicious harm to an institution, a business or other organisations, a community or even an entire country. People who inflict sabotage on a system are either a part of that system itself or else a part of the environment on which the system depends for its very survival.
Sabotage can be inflicted on an entity by the subordinated and by the dominant; by the powerless and by the powerful. Whatever the source, sabotage has throughout the years become a weapon of choice to hinder Guyana’s progress and development. Sabotage behaviou rs by individuals or groups are often legal actions which confirm to the letter of the law, though not necessarily the spirit of the law. Sabotage is what the sociologist Thorstein Veblen euphemistically referred to as “the conscientious withdrawal of efficiency”.
Guyana is experiencing the conscientious withdrawal of efficiency –sabotage! I have identified five different types of sabotage in order to provide an understanding of the scope and impact of this national plague. These are: industrial sabotage, the sabotage of estrangement, the sabotage of ritual, the sabotage of incompetence and indolence, and political sabotage.
First, there is Industrial Sabotage where workers in an industry would go on strike,” go slow” and “work-to rule” and so on. The end game is to constrain an employer to increase wages or other benefits; or, to end policies and actions perceived by the workers and their representatives as being inimical to the workers’ interests. The sugar industry in Guyana, for example, has been historically affected by the conscientious withdrawal of efficiency by its workers. Recent allegations of factory workers dumping tonnes of cane juice, so as to restrict the sugar industry production, if true, is a classic case of industrial sabotage. There have been perennially more strikes and industrial actions annually by sugar workers than by workers in any other industry in Guyana.
Industrial Sabotage is also routinely carried out by corporate managers and owners seeking to restrict production in their industry in order to maintain high prices, to control the labour demand and to cut other production costs. Some industries go as far as to dump excess output rather than reduce their prices. Businesses often engage in the conscientious withdrawal of efficiency by collaborating with their competitors to cut production in order, to maintain high prices of their commodities or services to the consumers.
Secondly, there is the Sabotage of Estrangement. Employees in an organization affected for many years by low wages, low morale, and lack of trust in its leadership often become alienated from their jobs and disaffected from management. This invariably results in growing paralysis in the organisation’s overall functioning, its efficiency and its output. Even with the change of leadership, the employees enmeshed in such systemic organisational malaise do not readily change from the engrained culture of estrangement.
I visited the University of Guyana in 2016 as part of its Educational Resource Ambassadors team at the invitation of Vice Chancellor, Ivelaw Griffith who had only a few weeks earlier took up the reins of leadership of the institution. I was struck by the alarming levels at which the conscientious withdrawal of efficiency had reached. This sabotage of
estrangement was very visible. Tall grass and other vegetation enveloped the campus like a nightmare, although the University employed a full time maintenance crew. Employees, students, cattle and dogs had competed for turf on its main Turkeyen Campus. Books in the much prized Caribbean Research Library were on the floor covered with plastic in vain efforts to keep out rain from leaking roofs. Some lecturers were reportedly not turning in final grades for students, months after final examinations were taken, thus effectively preventing paying students from registering for the next semester courses. Some lecturers were also consistently not showing up to teach the students. Yet, they were retained year after year. Many committed employees and students existed in environments of decaying infrastructure and diminishing morale, seemingly resigned to these as a new normal.
As someone who had lectured at the University of Guyana for over 25 years, I was deeply hurt at what had become of the institution. Everyone seem to say that it was poor salaries and the absence of resources to get things done. Sadly, the problem is much deeper than that. The “cow in the room” at UG is the sabotage of estrangement. Vice Chancellor Griffith has been doing much to turn things around and restore integrity and functionality to the national university. Yet, pockets of resistance to changing the organisational culture on the Turkeyen Campus remain embedded. An organisational culture in the final analysis is “the way we do things around here”. The organisational culture at UG is still U-G-L-Y and it is the responsibility of everyone at the institution to make it pretty again. As the Bible said, let the scales fall from thine eyes.
The third type of the conscientious withdrawal of efficiency is the Sabotage of Ritual. Ritual sabotage occurs in bureaucratic organisations like the public service and public corporations. This occurs when the proliferation of rules, regulations and work processes obstruct rather than enable efficient services and outcomes. Even though employees might be willing to make things happen, having to adhere to the rituals of complicated rules, regulations and work processes make them appear incompetent in the eyes of customers and the organization a waste of time in the minds of the public. Very often customers are told to go and get other documents elsewhere and come back. The run around you experience trying to get routine transactions done at some public offices in Guyana is the Sabotage of Ritual.
Even some private enterprises have been infected by this Sabotage of Ritual. I went to purchase a commodity at a major hardware enterprise on the East Bank of Demerara, a few months ago. While waiting almost one hour to purchase one item that costed about US$10, I counted 10 employees and supervisors who handled the transaction. My ordeal finally ended when an armed security guard at the door examined and delivered my purchase and stamped the receipt. The whole transaction was neither efficient nor customer oriented. The simplest of transactions involve elaborate rituals to fulfil whether it is in a bank or even a liquor store.
The fourth type of conscientious withdrawal of efficiency is the Sabotage of Incompetence and Indolence. Here, workers who are either lazy and or incompetent are hired and retained, mainly in public agencies. They sit around chatting and goofing off while customers are waiting, not knowing if and whether they will ever get served. Customers often have to protest, insist on seeing a supervisor or leave a “small piece” to complete a transaction.
The fifth and final conscientious withdrawal of efficiency I will address is Political Sabotage. Political sabotage is the use of political office or organisations to deliberately and maliciously subvert or derail public policies or programmes aimed at improving the well-being of the public and the nation. This is by far the most egregious form of sabotage since it is impelled by the leadership of national political parties with overarching power to affect the lives of many and thwart the development, governance or progress of the country. Political sabotage can be initiated either by an opposition political party or a governing party. In the never ending contests for control of governmental or state power political parties often resort to malicious actions to undermine the image or progress of opposing parties.
Guyana’s President David Granger’s rejected for a third time a list of six names submitted by the Opposition PPP Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo for an appointment to the post of Chairman of Guyana’s Election Commission. Using the enormous powers of the Office of the President and consistent with the Guyana Constitution, President Granger, who is also leader of the APNU/AFC coalition government, independently appointed a new Chair for the Guyana Elections Commission. This action, the Opposition Leader interpreted as a violation of Guyana’s Constitution and reportedly has taken the matter to court. Further, the PPP leader has recently decided to engage in political sabotage by waging a campaign of non-cooperation against the APNU/AFC Government and also to organise protests against President Granger whenever he travels around the country to meet the people.
Already, in local and regional government districts, PPP representatives have been declaredly engaging in political sabotage by delaying or obstructing development policies and programmes for some communities in order to portray the Government in a negative light. While the PPP was in power, it sabotaged local democratic governance by not holding local government elections for 20 years. It also visibly deprived the city of Georgetown, the Town of Linden, and the country’s educational system of adequate resources. It is puzzling why a leading national political party would maliciously engage in political sabotage. The problem with political sabotage is that it frustrates development initiatives and ultimately undermines the well-being of the Guyanese people. The time is apt for the Guyanese people to recognise what sabotage at all levels is doing to the nation. The time to end such counterproductive actions is now.
Thinking & Promoting Development
Labaria snakes and the corruption culture in Guyana
By Dr. Ken Danns
A CULTURE of corruption has for many decades been entrenched in the Guyana society. This culture has been driven by a normative disposition to utilise public office and government bureaucratic authority to unlawfully appropriate the resources of the government – both national and local – and the country as a whole for private gain.
The players in this venal culture include some politicians, some public servants, some local government officials, elements of both the local and foreign private sectors, and many ordinary citizens as well. Corruption stems from a mindset of greed. Corruption in Guyana is cultural collusion and a widely supported disposition to dishonest appropriation of public resources. It is often engendered in fraudulent relationships with likeminded individuals or unwitting victims.
A corrupt culture is bred and sustained by governmental systems characterized by the lack of transparency and accountability and by authoritarian rule. The end result of widespread corruption in a society is: widespread inequality in wealth distribution; the retardation of progress; the erosion of trust and legitimacy for systems of governance, the alienation of citizens and the arrested development of their country.
Guyana has proven over the years to be a textbook case of a resilient corruption culture. Transparency International, a global agency concerned with monitoring corruption ranked Guyana a high 108 out of 176 countries in its 2016 index, which rated countries from the least to the most corrupt. Guyana received a score of 34. Anything below 50 is seen as a government failing to tackle corruption. Transparency International concluded: “In Guyana, economic hardship, institutional weaknesses, criminal justice inefficiencies, as well as racial fractures in society provide fertile grounds for corruption… all major governance indicators suggest high and deteriorating levels of perceived corruption in the country and the prevalence of both bureaucratic and political forms of corruption.”
In 1978, the authoritarian PNC Government in recognition that corruption had reached epidemic proportions launched a “clean-up campaign against corruption in high places.” Then Prime Minister Forbes Burnham promised that “toes will be mashed.” Commissions of inquiry were established to examine practices in various public corporations. Public corporation managers were dismissed without protest; other public officials were brought before the courts, including police and army officers and junior public servants.
On May 10, 1979 the Guyana Chronicle reported that Deputy Prime Minister and PNC Party General Secretary, Dr. Ptolemy Reid “renewed the call for supervisors and management workers to refrain from dishonest and malicious acts which endanger the welfare of the broad masses of the Guyanese population.” He said some workers, as soon as they were placed in responsible positions and enjoying a certain quality of living standards, pounced upon every opportunity to defraud and conduct corrupt practices to further enrich themselves.” In graphic language the Deputy Prime Minister Ptolemy Reid asserted that the perpetrators of such acts were like “labaria snakes,” which attack when the opponent is near. Dr. Reid added that “the same attitude was evident by workers who were near to the party and government machinery who hit with ferocious and deadly blows at the nation’s coffers.”
Dr. Ptolemy Reid, who was also a veterinary surgeon by profession, knew the characteristics of this specie of vipers very well. Their bites are painful and they use their venom to immobilise and digest their prey. Politicians, public servants, local and foreign business people and members of the public who are corrupt are akin to vipers… labaria snakes. They strike with venomous greed and ferocity on the resources and the institutions of the nation, immobilising its functioning and in the process poison public morality and trust.
The former People’s Progressive Party ruled the country for 23 years during which time their governance deepened and expanded corruption in Guyana beyond belief. The local and foreign media, the public, leading foreign governments which dispense aid and loans to Guyana, and Transparency International all lamented the rampant corruption. The kleptocracy that became manifest led the distinguished Guyanese Economist, Dr. Clive Thomas to conclude that the PPP/C rule led to the emergence and institutionalisation of a criminal state. The criminal state Thomas asserted is a “state for itself – it is primarily geared to function as an instrumentality for the accumulation of wealth for those who operate it.” Thomas pointed out that corrupt practices ranged from the executive’s purposeful establishment of illicit slush funds, repeated unauthorised spending of public monies, fraudulent public procurements contracts, illegal capital flows, particularly illicit mis-invoicing of exports and imports, illicit financial transactions, and irregular and illegal use of state agencies to intimidate individuals and “group-affiliated government critics,” as well as to penalise those private businesses that are not supporting the ruling PPP/C administration.
Politicians who are corrupt generally occupy positions of authority and may use their public office for illicit private gain; dispense patronage benefits to family, friends and supporters; engage in corrupt transactions with local and foreign business people; and unlawfully deny access to resources by others because of their party, race, religion or other social criteria. The politically corrupt are invariably in a position to introduce laws, regulations and policies to further venal objectives. Often they collaborate with other corrupt politicians marinating their plans and striking the nation’s coffers from their vipers’ pit.
Public servants who engage in corrupt practices may do so out of personal greed, to compensate for inadequate salaries, and in response to pressure from politicians or the public to compromise their functioning from the straight and narrow. Corrupt public bureaucratic officials frustrate the attainment of governmental goals and objectives. Their actions subvert progress making it difficult, if not impossible to implement policies, build or maintain projects and deliver reliable services or goods to the public. Their labaria attacks gum up the works creating widespread inefficiencies, lack of accountability and paralysis. Indeed, many governmental projects that are stalled, failing or less than efficient are infected by corrupt practices.
Elements of the local and foreign private sector are integral to promoting and sustaining a corrupt culture in Guyana. It is a mistake to think that corruption in Guyana is possible without the activist involvement and partnership of elements of the private sector. Labaria politicians and labaria public servants invariably work in collusion with like-minded business officials who are seeking the award of contracts, the avoidance of taxation, custom duty and other penalties, waivers of regulations, and, unfair if not outright unlawful access to public resources and property. Private Sector organisations will publicly condemn and speak out against corruption often not acknowledging that some of their own members may be drivers of it. Some foreign businesses are often pressured into offering bribes and kickbacks in order to expedite their business or obtain concessions. Some foreign businesses delight in dealing with corrupt politicians and public officials. By doing so they are able to maximize profits and benefits, ignore the laws and regulations of the country, extract and export the nation’s resources, and inflict serious damage on the natural environment. Guyana loses big time when corrupt politicians sell the nation’s birthright for a mess of pottage.
Elements of the general public are also involved in the corruption culture. Many Guyanese like to get things done through “lines”. “Lines” refer to a normative disposition to get things done or obtain services and goods through bypassing official regulations and procedures. Byzantine and ineffective public bureaucracies make it necessary to use “lines” to get even the most routine transactions done in a timely manner. The use of “lines” undermine transparency and accountability in public transactions and public institutions. Basic principles of fairness and justice are violated as the user of “lines” is afforded preferential treatment while others are made to wait longer, obtain less or are even be denied altogether. Some members of the public also bribe public officials to obtain goods and services or to avoid prosecution and penalties. Citizens often know which public officials are corrupt and even have false names for them. The attitude of such citizens is that the “big ones” doing it, so we can do it too.
The underground economy in Guyana is a viable conduit for corrupt transactions. The participants in this economy are guerilla entrepreneurs involved in tax and regulatory evasions and varied criminal activities. The illegal drug trade is illustrative of the underground economy. It is an industry of vipers. It corrupts the society at all levels, compromising the integrity of some politicians and public officials as well as members of the public. The drug trade corrupts other sectors leading to money laundering, including the establishment of legally registered businesses as cover for the nefarious trade.
The new APNU+AFC Government has inherited this monster corruption culture and must do something about it. Corruption in Guyana is embedded in the society and cannot be wished away by speeches and threats. Economist Dr. Clive Thomas estimated that well in excess of $333 – $340B were annually stolen and that 60 percent of the Guyana economy was being run by a financial underworld. Several agencies have been established to investigate corruption. These are the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU), State Assets Recovery Agency (SARA) and the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU).
In Latin American countries leading politicians and public officials have been charged for corruption while in office. Among these are two recent Presidents of Guyana’s huge neighbour, Brazil. So far in Guyana no big fishes have been caught. No toes have been mashed. No heads have been rolled. No snakes have been snared. Forensic audits, foreign experts and commissions of inquiry have so far not yielded tangible outcomes.
The problem with corruption in Guyana is that it is there for all to see. It is in your face! Some politicians and public officials were able to build mansions, have huge bank accounts locally and abroad, and display other conspicuous acquisitions, which based on their annual salaries it would be impossible to honestly acquire. As the widespread corrupt practices of the past government recede in the memory of the public, the APNU+AFC Coalition Government will be saddled with the legacy of a still vibrant corruption culture which may undermine its own capacity to survive and be re-elected. The labaria pits may appear dormant but they are very much active and pose a serious threat to transparency and accountability in this fledgling democracy.
Article adapted from: http://guyanachronicle.com/2017/10/03/thinking-promoting-development
The end of the era of the 'strongman'?
- President Granger and the constitution in wake of Guyana’s other executive Presidents
EVER since the introduction of the 1980 Constitution, the Republic of Guyana institutionalised an Executive Presidency which lawfully entrenched its incumbents as constitutional dictators. A constitutional dictator is an incumbent President who is lawfully empowered by the Constitution to invoke its entrenched dictatorial powers anytime he or she so chooses. The President is not only the head-of-state and commander-in-chief of the armed forces, but also the “supreme executive authority” of the country. Government Ministers are creatures of the Executive President and may only exercise the delegated authority of their office on the President’s behalf. The President has veto powers over executive commissions, including the Elections Commission. Guyana’s executive presidency has powers to appoint members of the Judiciary and to prorogue or dissolve the Parliament.
Parliament is the only arm of government with the constitutional authority to remove the President “for violation of the Constitution or gross misconduct”. Yet, the powers of the executive presidency can negate or neutralize those of the Parliament by the issuance of presidential decrees that prorogue or dissolve that body. The Guyana Constitution makes a “strongman” out of its Executive President. The strongman in this context is a “constitutional dictator”. During and even after leaving office, the President cannot be tried by the courts, or held legally liable for any act he/she may have committed while occupying that office. The President is essentially above the law. Guyana’s Executive President, like Caesar, bestrides the country like a colossus!
Guyana has had eight executive presidents. Only two of these, Forbes Burnham, October 6, 1980 to August 6, 1985; and Desmond Hoyte, August 6, 1985 to October 9, 1992 were from the People’s National Congress (PNC). Five of the country’s executive presidents came from the People’s Progressive Party (PPP): Cheddi Jagan ruled from October 9, 1992 to March 6, 1997; Samuel Hinds ruled from March 6, 1997 to December 19, 1997; Janet Jagan ruled from December 19, 1997 to August 11, 1999; Bharrat Jagdeo ruled from August 11, 1999 to December 3, 2011; Donald Ramotar ruled from December 3, 2011 to May 16, 2015. President David Granger from APNU/AFC has been serving from May 16, 2015 to the present. He is the only Executive President not derived exclusively from either the PPP or PNC.
President Bharrat Jagdeo ruled Guyana for almost 12 years and was the longest-serving executive president. He will likely retain that title since the Constitution was amended to limit an incumbent to no more than two terms. President Desmond Hoyte ruled for seven years. All of Guyana’s other executive presidents occupied the office for less than five years, including President Burnham and President Jagan. President Samuel Hinds acceded to the presidency after the death of President Cheddi Jagan and served for only nine months. Hinds was Cheddi Jagan’s Prime Minister and constitutional successor. He belonged to the Civic arm of the PPP/C and merely warmed the seat of power until Janet Jagan, the logical successor to Cheddi Jagan, took over. Janet Jagan had served as the Prime Minister for President Hinds. Had he chosen to do so, President Samuel Hinds could have constitutionally defied the PPP/C and kept himself in power for much longer. For his loyalty to the PPP/C, Samuel Hinds was remarkably kept as Prime Minister of the country for just over 22 years under the other four PPP/C Presidents. His occupancy of loyalty resulted in Guyana having had eight executive presidents, but only five prime ministers.
President Janet Jagan resigned after ruling for just under two years and died ten years later in 2009. Her presidency was plagued by tumultuous street protests by citizens who objected to her becoming President, because she was not born in Guyana. She was the only woman in the history of Guyana to be appointed both Prime Minister and Executive President. Both Forbes Burnham and Cheddi Jagan died in office without serving out a full term. It is almost as if the office of Executive President consumes the very lives of those who want to retain it the most.
Forbes Burnham was the architect of Guyana’s 1980 Constitution and he designed it to keep himself in power for life and to bring about unchallenged socialist transformation in Guyana. Known as the “Constitution of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana,” it makes the President not only the supreme executive authority, but also the supreme legislative and judicial authority. Burnham’s handpicked successor, President Desmond Hoyte used the considerable and unchecked powers of the presidency to repudiate and transform the cooperative socialist development path his predecessor had charted. Hoyte almost single handedly used the presidential powers to change Guyana from a socialist to a market-oriented development path while touting the private sector as the engine of growth. Hoyte also ended his party’s rigging of national elections, restrictions on a free press and restored free and fair elections. These actions led to the democratic replacement of the PNC party in government by Cheddi Jagan’s PPP.
It is important to note that both the PNC and the PPP endorsed and embraced the powers of the Presidency. For 23 years the PPP, while in government, did very little to reduce these dictatorial powers. Indeed, in the early 1980s, I interviewed Dr. Cheddi Jagan on the topic “Ministerial Government in Guyana” for over an hour at the PPP headquarters, Freedom House. I was ushered to his office by Ms. Gail Teixeira who was at the time serving as his administrative assistant. Janet Jagan, then editor of her party’s newspaper the “Mirror”, occupied the office next to her husband. She was in her office and did not attend the meeting. I specifically asked Dr. Jagan if he was in agreement with the 1980 Constitution and all the powers it accorded the President. He categorically told me that he had “no problems with the Constitution”.
He said that his only objection was operational but not constitutional. He lamented that “Burnham appointed too many Vice Presidents and Government Ministers” and that when he becomes President he will have far fewer ministers and only one or at most, two Vice Presidents. Burnham at that time may have had five Vice Presidents. It was a sobering moment for me in recognizing that the charismatic leadership of Guyana’s two mass parties had more in common than the nation realized. Cheddi Jagan himself was by his own admission a “strongman” and an authoritarian leader that would also have taken Guyana down a socialist path if availed the opportunity.
The Guyanese people have had decades-long love affair with the “strongman”. Both Burnham and Jagan were charismatic leaders and their supporters loved them and endorsed whatever they ordained. These founding-fathers of the Guyanese nation were strongmen in their own right before becoming the heads of their governments. They were the lifelong and unchallenged leaders of Guyana’s two mass-based parties. The ability to control mass parties as well as the government is at the very foundation of this type of “strongman” leader. Acceding to the office of Executive President made them supremely and widely powerful as well. The other six presidents became “strong” mainly as a consequence of their incumbency as executive president. The problem with strongman rule is that it is essentially authoritarian and undermines the democratic processes in a society. The PPP and PNC political parties led by these strongmen were themselves undemocratic institutions. Further, strongman rule is inherently disposed to diminish transparency and accountability with resultant regimes characterized by widespread corruption and authoritarianism.
Why then are the Guyanese people attracted to strongman rule? The strongman leader is able to widely dispense political patronage. They appoint loyal followers to prime positions and create jobs even when no work exists. They blur the lines between government assets and resources and personal property. They dispense favours to family, friends and supporters. Importantly, they create the illusion that without them being in power all will be lost. Strongman rule has created a culture of dependency among the Guyanese people on their government and above all its ultimate ruler. Government bureaucracies are made to serve the leader or his party’s demands instead of the country as a whole. The consequence of this culture of dependency on such authoritarian leadership is that followers are inoculated from self-reliant development. Those opposed to the ruler and his mass supporters are marginalised and alienated with concomitant negative consequences for the development of the country as a whole. Mass migration from Guyana over the past three or four decades is an enduring index and direct consequence of the Guyanese people estrangement from their rulers, be they from one mass party or the other.
Not a ‘strongman’
This brings us to the current ruling APNU/AFC coalition administration. Though the Presidency retains its paramount power, President David Granger is the head of a broad based coalition government that imposes serious restraints on his exercise of such strongman powers. He therefore does not have the freedom space to readily dole out patronage benefits, even if he wanted to, and to adumbrate policies and programs with which the other coalition party members collectively disagree. The populace cannot turn to him to readily meet their needs. Getting things done for the country as a whole and his own supporters in particular is often the result of transactional arrangements with other coalition partners. The President is not unresponsive. He is instead accountable.
Government ministers may be constrained to go rogue in order to provide preferential treatment to supporters of their own party in the coalition. The watchdog media in the country are ever inclined to expose any contrary actions by the President, his government ministers and other state officials. The Opposition PPP Party is also ever ready to rightly or wrongly call out any action by President Granger that smacks of patronage, corruption or that is contrary to the laws of the land. The demands for the new government to be transparent and accountable are deafening and are seemingly bearing fruits of good governance, if not also sometimes paralysis. The end result is that although he is also the leader of the PNC, President Granger is not a strongman.
Though liked personally by many, David Granger is not a “strongman” ruler. From all appearances, is seemingly wary about projecting that he wants to be one. He was democratically elected to be leader of the PNC, a mass party that has been working to shed it authoritarian image and which coalesced with other political parties to contest the 2015 General Elections and form the Government. While ethnic rivalry has defined political participation in Guyana for decades, the demographic transition resulting from migration has made it almost impossible for future governments not to be organised as coalitions of some kind or the other.
Is this then the end of the era of the strongman? The Guyanese people have become accustomed to the failures of their past governments to be transparent, accountable and democratic, and, above all to develop the country. People came to realise that whether they support the leader from one party or another, the fate of the country in the past has been less than salubrious. They have got to demand and become accustomed to a changed political culture and process that eschew the authoritarianism, personalism and corrupt practices of their past rulers.
Reform of constitution
Central to the electoral platform of the APNU/AFC Coalition Party was the demand to reform the Constitution of Guyana to, among other things, considerably reduce the powers of the Presidency. There seems to be generalized support for constitutional reform from the opposition PPP, civic groups and the country as a whole. Yet, the APNU/AFC Coalition has not acted with due haste to get this done. Is it the allure of the absolute power of the Executive Presidency that may have begun to intoxicate those who ran to change it? While there is no evidence of this, it is imperative that the Government act now to get constitutional reform done.
Doing so will be the greatest democratic advancement for Guyana since it attained its independence in May 1966. It will also be the single biggest achievement of the APNU/AFC Coalition Government in its very first term. It will enshrine the foundations for enduring democracy and development in the country. By accomplishing sensible and fundamental constitutional reform, President David Granger can be permanently etched in Guyana’s history as a truly great President who reduced the powers of his own Executive Presidency in order to advance democracy and development of the country he so dutifully serves and loves.
Article adapted from: http://guyanachronicle.com/2017/08/29/end-era-strongman
"Profit" is a bad word! Entrepreneurship and the Guyanese mind
By Dr. Ken Danns
I WAS teaching at the University of Guyana during the era of the Desmond Hoyte’s Presidency and that of the succession in government of the PPP/C. I introduced what I termed the “Sociology of Enterprise” as an integral component of my SOC 100: Introduction to Sociology course which had enrolment numbers of between 100 – 150 students annually. The course lasted the duration of the academic year and students were introduced to theories on the origins of capitalism and entrepreneurship and required and trained to enact the role of entrepreneurs. The students were required to come up with a lawful business idea, develop a business plan and operationalise a short-term economic enterprise. This assignment explicitly stated that the more profit students successfully made, relative to their investment of time and money, the higher their grades would be for that assignment.
The students reported with great pride to the entire class on their rather innovative projects. These projects ranged from food businesses, farming, craft, organising large entertainment ventures, daycare, cleaning and other services, etc. Some of these enterprises have continued long after the class ended. The first couple of years the Sociology of Enterprise students did so as “individual entrepreneurs” or formed groups and worked together as “group entrepreneurs”.
By the third year while maintaining the individual and group entrepreneurs’ initiatives the entire class was turned into a “corporate enterprise”, complete with a managing board of directors, including a finance director, and board chairman and secretary. My University of Guyana’s sociology class, as a business incubator, initiated and developed successful and enduring projects like “Academic Freedom” a large all day fair held on Easter Monday on the Turkeyen Campus with the tag line “Academic Freedom, you got fuh come”; AWE Society – a theatrical production held at the National Cultural Center and “Miss University of Guyana Beauty Pageant”. In all of these highly successful short term enterprises, repeated for several years, the students actively engaged the business community as advertisers, investors, service providers and the public as consumers. The media, paid and unpaid, were crucial in promoting the students’ ventures. Students understood that all entrepreneurship involved risk taking and that many ventures fail.
The University of Guyana kept half of all profits made for use of its brand and facilities and these monies were used to buy computers, printers, office furniture, etc. that the university otherwise would not have been able to afford. The board of directors elected by the students accounted for all monies and paid each student from the profits. The Sociology of Enterprise Project maintained an account at Citizen’s Bank leaving a token sum of money in the account so the next year’s class would have some capital to start with.
I also lived what I preached by creating two successful businesses AWE Society Productions and the Center for Economic and Social Research and Action (CESRA). Many of my students created and sustained their own businesses after leaving the class. Entrepreneurship was not only taught and learned. It was also lived. The hundreds of students who took the course earned marks, money and a creative disposition to innovation and entrepreneurship.
The biggest problem I had as professor for the course was to convince our Guyanese students that it was okay to make money for themselves from their created enterprises. Students understood readily and eagerly related to the necessity for and challenges of innovation. But, the students in every class kept asking me same thing: “To whom or where do I/we donate the money I/we make”. The idea of engaging in entrepreneurial activities exclusively for personal profit rather than for altruistic purposes made most students feel uncomfortable and seemingly clashed with their value orientations to economic life. For most of the students “profit” was a bad word. The path to success in life consisted of earning a degree and acquiring a “good job”. Becoming an entrepreneur was not on their career radar. It required an epistemological break by students from their current understanding of economic life. I had to act as a “moral entrepreneur” and assured them that making money and a profit for themselves was a good thing. Further, that through their business enterprises they were providing a public service for private good.
Emerging from it post-colonial socialist past the Guyanese people were largely a nation of job seekers rather than wealth creators. The government was the dominant entrepreneur, followed by foreign enterprises, and the local private sector comprised mainly of family businesses. In addition, there were numerous small farmers, vendors and artisans engaged in “survival entrepreneurship”.
The Hoyte administration had abandoned cooperative socialism, restored market oriented economic policies and embraced the private sector as the engine of development. The emphasis was on attracting foreign investment – industrialization by invitation – and divesting state-owned enterprises. The PPP/C government maintained this trend and in addition promoted government partnerships with the private sector. While emphasising the role of the conventional private sector in the country’s development, as a reality and an abstraction, these preceding governmental administrations maintained state dominance in the economy and were not very effective in promoting a vibrant entrepreneurial culture in Guyana.
Of course, survival entrepreneurship as a method to generate “income” rather than “profit” has always existed in Guyana. Tens of thousands of relatively new survival entrepreneurs have emerged unable to rely on paid employment alone from the government or from the private sector. Herein lies a virtual reservoir of untapped entrepreneurial talent waiting for a salubrious policy climate and appropriate incentives like paved roads, transportation, power, potable water and access to local and international markets to explode. Many operate in the informal sector and in the underground economy as “guerilla entrepreneurs”. People are getting their hustle on, starting their own small businesses or at a minimum buying and selling commodities and services. Seems like everybody in Guyana selling something. Guyanese are earnestly seeking to explore entrepreneurial activities outside of their conventional employment. Sugar workers, for example, supplement their seasonal incomes as taxi and minibus drivers, farmers, artisans and shopkeepers.
A few months ago, I travelled along the coastlands from the University of Guyana’s Turkeyen Campus in Georgetown to its Tain Campus in Berbice. I was fascinated to see the roadside markets in many villages with their bounty of greens, vegetables, colourful fruits, fish, shrimp, crab, chicken, beef, and other commodities tantalisingly displayed. These markets seemed to be flourishing more than ever. I tried only to think of this endless bounty of produce as “organic” and fresh, rather than wondering about their shelf life and what happens to these primary commodities when they are not sold. I tried to think of how very blessed and verdant Guyana is. If you even spit on the soil something will grow. Truly a green economy!
Most of these small enterprises are wholly dependent on the labour power of these survival entrepreneurs and lack survivability and prospects for transformative growth. A visa to the United States or Canada is a huge incentive to abandon these small enterprises and the country. If only the production of these primary goods can be converted into value added commodities through the application of technology to preserve, to can and to export. If only these vendors can be trained to tap the wind and hot tropical sun as reliable energy sources for manufacture in their communities.
The two year old APNU/AFC Coalition Government in Guyana has made a marked departure from its predecessors. It is decidedly and openly fostering entrepreneurship to generate employment, stimulate manufacturing and other value added enterprises and in general to give citizens a stake and a say in the development of the country and their communities. President David Granger in urging villagers to develop cottage industries stated: “Get into manufacturing; open packaging plants and factories! Villagers can do simple things by planting guava and using them to make jams and jellies; villages today are empty, so the villagers need to get involved in various manufacturing activities.” Guyana’s Minister of Finance Winston Jordan encouraged residents in the Town of Linden for example to “get involved in business” and assured them that the government will support their entrepreneurship.
This is a major policy shift where entrepreneurship is seen as a protocol for wealth creation and development not only by the conventional private sector, both local and foreign, but by Guyanese everywhere in the villages and townships. The Guyana government is seemingly cultivating an entrepreneurial culture among its peoples. Remarkable indeed! When the state plays the major and activist role in promoting private entrepreneurship countries develop rapidly. Examples are, China, South Korea, Taiwan and Japan.
This major paradigm shift in thought on Guyana’s development must of course be accompanied by the conscious recognition that “profit” is not a bad word”. Government regulations and taxation must function as incentives to wealth creation and profit generation rather than onerous burdens and disincentives. Celebrate the generation of wealth and profit. Promoting an entrepreneurial culture in Guyana as a development strategy importantly requires buy in by government administrators and not only its articulation by political leaders. Government bureaucrats must be oriented to stop seeing profit as a bad word. Emergent or established businesses must come to perceive government functionaries as enablers, rather than deadweights and vampires. The caring actions and long term commitment of the government are crucially important for bringing large segments of the vibrant survival entrepreneurship into the formal economic sector and above ground and enabling their sustainability. This is by no means to suggest that emergent business enterprises must be dependent on government for their survival. Private enterprise is economic freedom and a foundation of modern democracy.
The entrepreneur is important for development. It is through entrepreneurship that the forces of production are organised and revolutionised to create the wealth associated with industrial and postindustrial societies. The generation of profit is a good thing. It must be seen and treated as such by those committed to their own and the country’s development.
- The University of Guyana