Co-operatives appear fragmented
The year 2012 has been designated the International Year of Cooperatives but from where I sit I am not sure that we in Guyana are observing this fact in a meaningful way. I had promised myself that I would not speak publicly on the woes of the Paradise Multi Purpose Cooperative Society until its problems have been resolved as promised by the Minister of Labour and Cooperatives.
But the views of others as expressed in letters and calls supportive of my position partially proves the argument of Khemraj Rai et al that if an issue is to have a realistic chance of resolution it should be placed squarely in the public domain.
So my contribution today though related to cooperatives will not speak directly to the PMCS. What I intend to do is offer a suggestion that in much the same way that there are representative national associations of the workers unions, lawyers, miners, justices of the peace, private sector, indigenous peoples, aquaculture, cane farming, community policing, and poultry producers among others, there is a need for a representative body for cooperatives.
In their current state co-ops appear fragmented with no discernible unity of purpose in terms of maximising their potential contribution to nation-building.
I expect and agree with the argument that co-ops are formed and operated for different reasons. Therefore, bringing them all under an umbrella body is fraught with challenges. However with reference to the International Cooperative Alliance’s seven principles of cooperative identity which are expected to guide the conduct of coops internationally, I wish – for the purpose of my argument, to mention three principles namely education, training and information sharing; cooperation among cooperatives; and concern for community.
Notwithstanding the existence and presumed role of the Kuru Kuru Cooperative College I am not sure that we are getting value for money particularly if we were to examine the reality and the state of cooperatives in Guyana with respect to several of the KKCC’s key responsibilities. Maybe we can be provided with evidence to the contrary because it would be interesting to know how many co-ops are taking advantage of the tertiary level programs offered by a college dedicated to enhancing their education.
A national association, committee or league which represents the interests of coops and their members could serve to promote the development and sustainability of cooperatives regardless of their form and reason for existence.
In this way an active advisory role is envisaged with respect to a relationship with the subject Minister on matters pertaining to the aforementioned areas. This body could have the advantage of: speaking with one voice; applying lessons learned to current issues; adopt a stringent approach according to universal guidelines bearing in view the specific nature of the member entity; and ensuring that all activities remain on the straight and narrow.
One very important consideration is the removal of the vast discretionary powers reposed in the Cooperatives Development Office which may be lacking in capacity in its current composition. In other words in addition to the abovementioned functions the national body inter alia could serve to promote good relations within and among cooperatives; and inquire into and report upon any cooperative-related matter which may be referred by the Minister. The primary challenges initiators are likely to face are parochialism reflected in a fierce desire to hold on to turf and uninhibited power; and resistance to any change which is likely to remove opportunities for misfeasance and/or malfeasance in an enabling environment of irregularity and disorder.
In my humble view a national body could forge the way for a broader understanding of the cooperative movement as a mechanism for asset building, ownership, and wealth accumulation strategies all aimed at quality of life improvement collectively.
We like to throw around numbers; this is okay, but are there really sustainable interventions which consider long term viability. I am firm in my belief that we need a cohesive body of cooperatives collaboratively informed and educated about business and financial possibilities and run as businesses leading ultimately to national cooperative development.
Patrick E. Mentore