THE BATTLE OF THE OLIGARCHS
Yesterday, we examined the emergence of Guyana’s historic economic oligarchies and their relationship to political power. To recap, we argued that the traditional oligarchy aligned itself to State power for protection and largesse, while the new oligarchy emerged as a creature of political cronyism, with some of its constituents believed to be fronts for the ill-gotten gains of politicians.
Buoyed by the support it believed it held with State power, the new oligarchy emerged without the cautiousness and reservations of the old economic bourgeoisie. They were aggressive and forceful, confident of the support they had within the State apparatus.
Their emergence immediately posed a threat to the old kingpins of business. A venture to establish a major industrial concern was floated. This threatened the survival of a major industry controlled by the old oligarchs and opened their eyes to the possibility that their days of domination were going to be over.
The new oligarchy has since continued to expand into various sectors previously dominated by old industrialists. These old industrialists are worried, but are not openly coming out and confronting the new oligarchs that they are convinced are receiving generous patronage and support from the state.
The new oligarchy has also moved in a major way into the media and communications sector and is likely to threaten existing players in information services. As such, some of the existing information service providers are working behind the scenes to expose the manner in which the new oligarchy has emerged and the official patronage it enjoys.
This is all part of the campaign by the old oligarchy to nullify the expansion of the new oligarchy.
The old oligarchs are fearful that eventually their investments are going to be overrun and they will lose their businesses. They are already seeing traditional segments of the market they controlled being overrun by the new oligarchy. They are also being nudged out of major contracts.
The new oligarchy has an insatiable appetite. No sector is outside of its grasp. Once there is money to be made, the new oligarchy is interested. What is even scarier is that even those sectors such as the hospitality and airline industries, which are high risk investment sectors, are being eyed by the new oligarchy. This has raised the specter of a complete takeover of the Guyanese economy by the new oligarchy.
The new oligarchs are not limiting themselves to only local businesses. There is belief that its next major takeover target is West Indies cricket. The emergence of 20/20 cricket and the success of the Indian Premier League, it is believed, have revealed the potential investment opportunities in cricket. But in order to move into this big league, there is a need to control cricket at both the local and regional levels. One of the biggest fears is that even the West Indies Cricket Board can be acquired by the new oligarchy since it is a shareholding corporate body, and therefore is being eyed as a potential money-spinner by the new oligarchy.
Faced with a threat to their existence, the old oligarchs are working behind the scenes, opposing the actions of the new oligarchs, who have already made major inroads into the construction, housing and landholding sectors. The old oligarchy is opposed to the new cable that is being imported from Brazil, fearful that it will serve primarily the interests of this small grouping. The old oligarchy is fearful that the new airport project will end up primarily nourishing a major player within the new oligarchy and this will make them even more powerful and influential.
In all of this there is the concern about the influence of the oligarchies on the political parties in Guyana. At least one opposition party is opposed to the actions of the new oligarchs, and particularly, its proposed expansion into the hospitality sector. Ironically, the opposition parties passed a major project that will benefit the new oligarchies, while being opposed to another over which they could not exert any veto. Political parties are therefore being caught up in this battle of the oligarchs.
When it comes to the ruling party, the issue goes beyond support. Traditionally, as was argued yesterday, the dominant political class seeks to influence and control the ruling class using its economic power.
The PPP has had a long association with the working class. But since 1997, the business class has become very close to the government. Now there is a new force within this class that has seemingly aligned itself with the ruling elite.
In light of the direction that that the economy is moving, there are questions now being asked as to the degree of influence that is being exerted by the new oligarchy on the ruling party. Is it mere influence? Is the PPP being controlled by the new kids on the block? Or has the PPP being taken over by the new oligarchy?