In honouring the memory of a former President of Guyana, the Hugh Desmond Hoyte
Museum was officially opened.
At the event Minister of Social Protection, Volda Lawrence, said, “It is indeed an honour and privilege on this momentous occasion honouring the memory of Mr. Hugh Desmond Hoyte, a former President of Guyana, to share with you, the tremendous social and human contribution he made to the people and his country Guyana during the period 1988 to 1992”.
Minister Lawrence sketched a picture of Hoyte’s eminence as he piloted Guyana through those very important years.
In the words of the Late President Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham, Hugh Desmond Hoyte possessed the finer qualities of life: intellectual honesty, true statesmanship and effervescent leadership.
Hoyte was in effect, a judicious leader, an unsung hero, whose shrewdness, astute political insight and profound concern for the people charted a resolute course to forge a united people with a firm resolve to achieve national development.
Sir Shridath Ramphal observed, “…Guyana, for all its present problems, is a better place because Desmond Hoyte was there to bridge the Presidencies of Forbes Burnham and Cheddi Jagan, and in doing so to establish those markers of national democracy and personal integrity that are the monuments already erected by his life of service to Guyana.”
“As we reflect on Mr. Hoyte’s management and contribution to the social climate during the period under review, we cannot fail to recognize his resolve as he attempted to restore the country to a path of sustainable economic growth and through policies and measures sought to enhance the lives of the Guyanese nation,” Minister Lawrence said.
Hoyte’s tenure as President was fraught with challenges. In 1985, he assumed the Presidency amidst intense national, global, social and economic upheavals. Guyana was reeling from the impact of the global oil crisis and constrained by a crippling external debt burden; internally, there was an acute shortage of foreign exchange; restrictions on importation of food items and a collapse in infrastructure, social services and public utilities.
Yet Mr. Hoyte fervently and resolutely accepted the mantle and given the urgency attached to reactivating the productive sectors and rebuilding the country’s infrastructure, he committed to a market-oriented development strategy and deliberately chose the neo-liberalism route crafting a new development thrust called the Economic Recovery Programme (ERP), a comprehensive matrix of policies and measures officially initiated in 1989, designed to restore the economic viability of the country; a programme which those who would harvest its bumper crops, maliciously dubbed Empty Rice Pot.
Undoubtedly, Mr. Hoyte was and is deserving of our gratitude for the pivotal role he played in laying the foundation of the ERP that propelled Guyana to several years of continuous growth afterwards unmatched by its beneficiaries while in government, Ms Lawrence said.
In the words of the Executive Director to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the ERP “was radical in its objectives, comprehensive in its scope and courageous in its implementation”.
Minister Lawrence said that, Hoyte’s ERP was so effective that Carl Greenidge, in his presentation of the 1992 Budget on March 30, 1992, reported growth of 6.1% in real GDP, “dramatically halting three years negative growth.”
Indeed so optimistic was Greenidge about the performance of the economy that he conveyed the famous message to those pundits and their parties who had made “tenebrous predictions” that the ERP would not work, with the admonition “the one who says it cannot be done should never interrupt the one who is doing it.”
According to the Minister of Social Protection, “Human and Social Development in Guyana have improved significantly, but it would be remiss if in our discourse we failed to acknowledge the phenomenal leadership of the late Hugh Desmond Hoyte at this juncture. Mr. Hoyte concerned himself not only with the physical development of a country that was grappling with economic shocks internationally, but with the domestic challenges as well primarily the exacerbating issue of poverty; even as he sought to chart Guyana’s path, Mr. Hoyte was ever conscious of the diverse needs of the people”.
Further, “Hoyte sought to build on the People’s National Congress’ social welfare thrust of the early 1970s to Feed, Clothe and House everyone and to intensify the free education policy from nursery to tertiary in the latter part of that decade, which saw spending in relation to the Gross Domestic Product comparing favourably with its Caricom sisters”. (Guyana 5.5%, Barbados 6%; Jamaica 5.4% and Trinidad 5% (Ferguson 1995, p96).
In the interest of raising the people’s standards of living, he introduced Social Safety Nets, in other words structural adjustment programs, such as the Social Impact Amelioration Programme (SIMAP), externally financed but controlled locally and the Secondary School Reform Programme. Training, education and retooling were done to prepare and empower citizens to take advantage of the new developmental thrust.
Functionally, SIMAP, as stated by its Executive Director, Mr. Philip. N. Chan, had two broad goals namely damage limitation and the promotion of sustainable development for vulnerable groups and individuals.
The programme embarked on activities of infrastructural rehabilitation – roads, schools health centres, sanitation, water supply, drainage and irrigation and provision of social services – medical supplies, nutrition, food supplementation, education and training as well as cash transfers to targeted groups such as low wage public service employees, mothers and children visiting health centres , NIS pensioners among others.
In public life, President Hoyte was a formidable force; meticulous, with a demonstrated intolerance for corruption; a stickler for order, rule of law and professionalism, qualities that he used to ensure the social protection of every Guyanese.
May his stewardship remain etched in our minds and serve as a beacon reminding us of the high level of commitment we as leaders have to display as we endeavour to provide a good life for all our citizens. Let us take a page out of his book of service to humanity and remain focused on our pledge and responsibility to be humble servants of the Guyanese nation.
“We salute this hero of our soil and pray that he will continue to find peace and rest”, Minister Lawrence concluded.
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