In this period of change in the Guyana government administration, in which key sectors are found to be existing in a state of failure, there is urgent need for ‘Think-Tanks’. Think Tanks can save this country from the perils of the past and catapult it into a better future. A Think Tank is described as a group of experts brought together, usually by a government, to develop ideas on a particular subject and to make recommendations for the best course of action. In the USA, Think Tanks are also called ‘Think Factories’, and rightly so, as they manufacture ideas.
In the 1970s and 1980s, Think Tanks were quite popular as governments and international organisations sought to bring the best brains together to find answers to key developmental issues. While the USA and many other developed countries still use Think Tanks, some developing countries seem to prefer to battle through the beaten path of dogma and tinkering when it comes to macro decision-making.
At this critical hour, in which Guyana is poised for real development, there are five areas in which Think Tanks are badly needed. First, a Think Tank is needed for Guyana’s Coastal Vulnerability. Many studies have been conducted on the subject matter, but they deal primarily with battling with the sea. I am advocating a Think Tank to that will facilitate the finding of the best solution to Guyana’s coastal vulnerability.
During the past fifty years, successive governments have spent multiplied billions in trying to keep the sea out and reduce flooding during heaving rainfall, without success. Ever so often the wall gets breached and flooding occurs. Apart from the obvious clogged drains, silted canals, blocked alleyways, and undredged outfalls, there is something disturbing about living below sea level in a country like Guyana. The Dutch and English Colonists settled and built plantations along the coastland because of the fertile soil. The Coastland is ideal for planting but its location below sea level makes it the worst place in Guyana on which to build a permanent civilisation, especially in this time of Global Warming, ice meltdown and rising seas.
Yet, we continue with the minuet of life on the coastal plain when we have higher grounds less than an hour’s drive from the City. It is time that we assess how many billions have been spent, how many more is likely to be spent in our life time, the impact of the spending , and what it will take to begin the process of designing a strategic planning engine to develop higher lands for living.
Secondly, we need a Think Tank on how to convert Guyana’s potential to actual wealth. From the 1970s to the present, we have heard the mantra from politicians, diplomats, and those who travel widely in this country; ‘Guyana has rich potential’. We all believe it, I think. It is time that we convert those possibilities into realities. We know of the abundance of water resources in the Land of Many Waters, yet, apart from drinking the water, fishing in them and sailing, the waters have been wasted. We have not used it to provide energy, which is our main factor of production, and the most costly. Along with the water sources, Guyana potential for tourism must be studied. Eco-tourism is one of the fastest growing businesses in the world, yet Guyana has not cashed in.
Similarly, Guyana needs a group of scientists to live in our forests and study our flora and fauna with the aim of finding some genetic material that can make products that will be demanded globally. At the launching of the Low carbon Development Strategy some years ago, I made this point publicly, indicating that Guyana can earn far more from its genetic materials than from asking countries to pay for carbon services.
A Think Tank to study Brazil’s economic and social needs in relation to Guyana becoming a supplier will be most strategic. Guyana is a small country with a small population of less than a million people However, with its natural resources still in tact, Guyana can seek to find one or a few goods or services that it can supply Brazil, our neighbour of more than 130 million people. Now that the two countries are linked, it is time for Guyana to maximise the opportunities. If we do not concentrate on Guyana’s potential and exploit it for the good of the nation then our leaders have failed. Potential that remains potential in perpetuity is tantamount to idiocy.
Then there is GYSUCO and the rice sector. A Commission of Enquiry was recently appointed. A COI will serve a limited purpose. Its findings can be used by a Thank Tank, which will be more strategic in determining the future of the sugar industry. Just as how it is foolhardy to continue living on land that is below sea level, flood prone, and becoming more susceptible, it is nonsensical to continue to put billions every year into an industry that is systemically denude of what it takes to be competitive in foreign markets.
I was pleasantly surprised to read Professor Clive Thomas’ prognosis about GUYSUCO and that of Guyana’s private sector czar, Dr. Yesu Persaud. Both of the learned gentlemen’s comments appeared after my published letter, ‘Sugar is dead horse in Guyana and we should stop whipping it’ (KN, June 19, 2015). Despite what is being said by the experts and non-experts like me, I will submit that a Think Tank will facilitate better decision-making than individual experts. A Think Tank will also give all Guyanese, especially those employed by GUYSUCO, the assurance that the course of action taken will be the best for the nation in the present circumstances.
The same goes for the rice sector. This sector needs a Think Tank. At the recent rice conference, President David Granger said that the rice sector needs to be competitive. His remarks brought back memories of my involvement with the EC/CARIFORUM Project financed under the 9th EDF, between 2005 and 2007. This was an 11 million Euro project for the competitiveness the Guyana and Caribbean rice Sector. The project aimed to increase the efficiency and sustainability of the rice industry in Guyana and Suriname, with Guyana being the main beneficiary. One of the key concerns was the inefficiencies in the production of rice, which contributed to the relatively low yields as compared to international competitors. Some of the key problems that impact on the regional rice industry are poor quality, low productivity, low rice milling and processing efficiencies, limited rice marketing strategies and inefficient means of generating and transferring technology.
In October, 2005 a rice Financing Conference was held in Georgetown to bring together experts in the fields of agribusiness, investment and banking under the theme: “Increasing Investment flows for Rice and other Agri-Businesses in the Caribbean”. A financing facility was also established as part of EC/CRIFORUM project. This facility was administered by GBTI and provided loans to rice farmers. It operated as a revolving fund and rice farmers, categorised in three bands: large scale, medium scale, and small scale, were allowed to drawn down millions of dollars, depending on how they qualified.
However, the 9th EDF did not result in increase competitiveness of the rice sector. The project failed as rice farmers did not repay their loans. Any similar facility under the new government administration is likely to experience the same fate. The sector needs a Think Tank that will be the vehicle for its total transformation.
Several other areas need Think Tank intervention: Youth Development; Vulnerable Communities such as Linden, Buxton and Pigeon Island; and the return of professionalism in the Guyana Police Force and high-ranking public officer holders. While the new government has been bequeathed sectors and structures that need urgent treatment and cannot await Think Tank treatment, the sustainability and competitiveness of the sectors demand thorough investigation, diagnosis, and treatment that Think Thanks can facilitate.
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