Guyana is no longer the second poorest nation in the western hemisphere
Guyana assumed its independence amidst great promise. We were one of the top nations in the Caribbean, boasting a resource base that was the envy of most of the other countries of what then constituted the English- speaking Caribbean.
We had a strong foundation upon which to build a rich nation. We were expected to become the wealthiest of all Caribbean nations.
The talk was that Guyana had gold, bauxite, rice, diamonds and timber in abundance. There was the expectation that Guyana could end up, with its extensive agricultural lands, being able to feed the Caribbean.
We ended up being hardly able to feed ourselves. Instead of sugar cake and cassava pones remaining snack foods, they became the basic staples which the people used for breakfast. Instead of becoming the breadbasket of the Caribbean, Guyana became a basket case.
Bread became short as flour was restricted and many Guyanese privately endured the shame of moving from a nation in which when people came to your home you were anxious to offer them food, to one in which you had nothing to offer guests when they came.
As the economy collapsed, so too did the initial promise at the independence. By the time 1992 came around, Guyana was the second poorest nation in the western hemisphere.
At the same time, most of the smaller economies of the Caribbean were able to surpass Guyana when it came to primary economic indicators such as per capita GDP and per capita GNI.
The country was in a mess and required a Marshall Plan to help it rebuild. It was clear then because of the extent of the destruction that it was near impossible for Guyana to ever catch up with the rest of the Caribbean and Latin America.
The ruling PPP administration has been in power for the past eighteen years during which time it has had to concentrate on rebuilding the economy and social services, restructuring the country’s debt burden which led it to becoming one of the world’s most highly indebted countries.
Guyana will probably never, in our lifetime, be able to achieve the sort of economic wealth that would make it the richest country in the Caribbean.
We fell far behind and by simply applying a compound interest formula, the one that is taught in school, any student can predict that even with sustained economic growth, one that is higher than our Caribbean counterparts, we would still within the next ten to twenty years be unable to catch up with the rest of the Caribbean.
When you fall so far behind as Guyana did under the PNC, it is nigh impossible to regain ground especially when the countries to whose standards we are aspiring are not in an extended state of decline.
Guyana may have had its debt burden reduced to the extent that it can better afford to service its external debts. Guyana per capita income has more than doubled since the PPP came to power. Guyana is also no longer considered a low income country. It has now graduated to a low middle income country.
This may not be much to shout about but the reality is that when you examine the per capita incomes of other countries in the Caribbean and Latin America, it is clear, unmistakably clear that not in yours or my lifetime, is Guyana going to become a highly ranked country.
Guyana is, however, no longer the second poorest nation in the western hemisphere.
That distinction now falls on Nicaragua. Guyana may within the next five years jump another rank higher and surpass Bolivia in terms of per capita income, but it is near impossible for Guyana within the next fifteen years to come anywhere near the per capita incomes of some of the better off countries in Latin America.
Whatever the shortcomings of the present administration, there is no denial that significant economic progress has been made.
However, the fact is that we fell too far behind and are unable to catch up with the front runners in the region. But we are much better off today than we were in 1992 and we are no longer considered as the second poorest nation in the western hemisphere.
There should, however, be no illusions of what can be achieved within the next ten years.
Even with growth rates in excess of eight per cent- a feat that is near impossible in a small economy to sustain- Guyana will not become the richest nation in the Caribbean.
This is the harsh reality of our economic situation. We are still a poor country, but we are much better off, as measured by per capita Gross Domestic Product and per capita Gross National Income that we were eighteen years ago when we attainted the distinction of being only less poor than Haiti.