Ever since a friend loaned me the book ‘From Third World to First—The Singapore Story: 1965-2000’ I have been looking at my country with a range of emotions. I have felt anger, pity, sorrow, disappointment and shame. Of course I love my country to the extent that I will never take up residence anywhere else, but I will always experience these emotions.
Singapore was led by Lee Kuan Yew at the same time when Guyana was still a colony and had Dr Cheddi Jagan as its premier. Both Guyana and Singapore were at the same level of development at the time. They both became independent about the same time. Guyana had thatched roof houses and range houses. Singapore had the same.
Guyana abounded with natural resources; Singapore had none. However both countries had ethnic problems. Of course the root of the ethnic problem was different, but Guyana’s was not as severe as Singapore’s.
Last week, I read a news report prepared by one of my reporters. Using information supplied by the Indian Arrival Committee (IAC) – who culled statistics from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) database and some other international sources – it was concluded that Guyana is 254 years behind Singapore. That was shocking. It made me place myself against Usain Bolt in the 200-metre dash.
Indeed we would be starting at the same point, but at the finish my inadequacies would be most glaringly exposed. That was the case of Guyana and Singapore.
How could one country get it so right and the other so wrong? It upset me greatly when people compared my Guyana with Haiti. I knew that my country like every country had poverty, but I also knew that my Guyana was doing reasonably well with the economy. But that was until I looked at the Singapore story.
The economic policies of that Asian giant boggled my mind. For one, its leader bought foreign talent when the country had none, but there was a caveat. For every two foreigners there needed to be one Singaporean. There was no attempt to get the foreigner to pay a bribe.
In Guyana, nearly fifty years later we bring in foreign talent who insist on their own staff. There is no need for Guyanese who, by presidential edict, should be employed alongside the foreigners. Instead, we have our leaders justifying why Guyanese should not gain employment, for example on the Marriott hotel project.
But even at the national level in Singapore, there was special care to ensure that there was balance. The leaders concentrated on nationalism, something that Guyana tried by way of the Guyana National Service. Our government scrapped it and insisted on ethnic discrimination.
The strange thing is that we have examples to follow; instead we have opted to do our own thing. The result is stagnation and a people who merely want to leave the country by any means possible. In this day and age we have skilled Guyanese running to other countries to peddle their ability.
We say that we are trying with education, when despite all the talk we are producing increasing numbers of partially literate people. Even our teachers are not much to shout about. I have heard teachers struggle to speak the Queen’s English. Many cannot spell properly and most lack leadership skills.
There was a time when we had skilled artisans. These have all but disappeared and that is because they cannot find jobs in the land of their birth. This should not be, but it is because we insist on ignoring them in favour of the foreigner.
We allow contractors to deliver substandard work with impunity without recognising that this is money down the drain. I cannot begin to imagine how many millions of dollars have been wasted in this manner.
We see people who take forever and eternity to complete major projects. We don’t work after 4:00 and we don’t work at nights. I have been to some developed countries and I always noticed that when, for example, they have to work on a roadway they do so at nights when the traffic is at its minimum.
Our farmers work their butts off and find that they do not have markets, so they dump their produce. There was a time when the government sent trucks to buy from the farmers and arranged for markets. There was even an attempt at canning. Today, although we believe that we are keeping pace with development, we do not have a recognized cannery to process surplus foods.
Instead, we buy canned things from other countries, spending money that could have gone to other things. We are a country of waste and we seem proud to be.
We have tried to improve our medical facilities and we boast that these things were non-existent two decades ago, but we do not talk about allowing rookies to work unsupervised; to perform their task alongside their more skilled counterparts and so learn. We do not see the need to develop talent.
These are the things that separated us from Singapore. We do not make even a simple bicycle spoke; Singapore makes cars. At the pace we are going, even at the political level, in another ten years we will be 500 years behind a country that started off with us. This is enough to bring tears to my eyes.
My leaders are more concerned with looking good than with being good. They are more concerned with tearing down that which existed to apply their own brand, than with building on what we have. But then again, there is a saying that a people deserve the government they get.
Our people, instead of insisting on what is needed, sit back like sheep because they are afraid of being labeled anti-government and ostracized. I know these things because I read about what operates elsewhere.
We close our eyes to corruption, because we do not want to be like Singapore. We want to be ourselves, poorer than most and happy in our poverty.
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