The nature of political and social discourse in Guyana needs revamping. For too long this discourse has been combative; for too long we have been speaking at rather than to each other; for too long we have been speaking with forked tongues rather than trying to reconcile the various interests that we pretend we do not represent.
A fresh start is needed to public discussions and I am happy to be asked to make a contribution towards enabling changes in the way we speak to each other.
I begin with a simple question. If all the parties in Guyana agree that development is good for Guyana then why would the opposition parties cut projects that can promote development?
Are these cuts a product of the nature of the way our leaders relate to each other? Is their dialogue aimed at finding common ground or is it is based on either side attempting to prevail over the other?
That approach has to change and give way to each side considering the issue from the perspective of the other while leaving the other with enough space to change their mind or modify their stance.
What is needed is for a new approach to national issues, one in which each side can consider the other’s interests and instead of trying to only defend or only criticize one another, both sides can try to find a basis for agreement.
Take for example the airport project. This is a highly vexatious issue. The opposition is suspicious of this project, beginning with the manner in which this deal was signed. It was a secretive deal which was only made public after it was reported in the foreign media. The Guyanese people were not aware that the government, just before the election, had signed a major deal with a Chinese firm to undertake major works to the Timehri airport.
The contract means that some US$150M in debt is going to be contracted by the people of Guyana so that the airport can be become a category one facility.
The question needs to be asked, therefore, is why if this is such an important developmental project that would bring benefits to the economy of Guyana, was it necessary to keep it away from public scrutiny? Why the secrecy?
Where there is secrecy, people smell rats, and in the case of this deal, some people smelt a Big Rat.
The first issue, therefore, that needs to be addressed, is whether there is need for an upgrading of the airport to category one. It has been suggested that in order for a national carrier to fly from Guyana to certain locations, the country needed to have a category one airport.
This brings us to the next question as to whose interest is going to be served by having a category one airport. Obviously, it will be the interest of whichever airline wins the national flag carrier status.
So this now begs the question as to why should taxpayers be incurring a debt of US$150M so that an airline can be branded as the national flag carrier of Guyana. If the main reason is to allow for category one status, it means the cost to the treasury for achieving this status is US$150M. And since this status is necessary for an airline to be designated a national flag carrier, then the controversy can be solved simply by asking whichever airline is designated the national flag carrier to pay US$150M in order to be branded as the national airline of Guyana.
It may be argued, however, that the Guyanese taxpayers should foot a share of this bill since the economy will benefit. But suppose the perceived benefits do not materialize. What it means is that the taxpayers of this country will be burdened with a debt of US$150M just because the designated national flag carrier did not deliver the economic benefits that it said it would.
What happens also if the national flag carrier runs bust. It would not be fair for taxpayers to be so burdened with a US$150M debt plus interest.
This therefore brings us back to the issue that needs to be settled before any monies are spent on this airport project. Is this project being pursued because of its value to the national economy or is it being pursued solely to put monies into the hands of private investors?
No compelling arguments have so far been made that would suggest that Guyana is going to benefit tremendously from having a category one airport? And in the absence of that alone, this entire project is questionable and needs to be squashed.
After all, those who signed this deal cannot convince the Guyanese taxpayers that this project can pay for itself, that is, the government will within a certain period make back the sum it is borrowing plus a big profit, then why should taxpayers have to incur such a massive debt? This is the question that has to be answered and if it cannot be answered, then the project should be halted immediately.
But that is not the only reason why the airport project should be aborted. Those who inked the contract now have to answer as to how they came about choosing the contractor for the proposed job.
To be continued.
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