By Leonard Gildarie
In the latter 1980s and early 1990s, the priorities of Guyanese were much, much different. Life was a slow grind with sugar reigning supreme and very little else happening.
Many of the older folks would recall when former President Desmond Hoyte, in his wisdom, decided to lift the restrictions on wheat flour importation. Maybe it was external pressure of a sense of unrest that spurred his decision.
Somehow, looking back, I believed that it was that time when the populace would have begun to really sense the winds of change.
The early ‘90s came, but by then it was too late for Hoyte, who had different ideas about how Guyana was to embrace the future. I thought he had good ideas, but his time had not come.
Guyana was rearing for a change and Cheddi Jagan was that change, it was felt.
The ‘90s opened up a new era in business for the country, with a new class of entrepreneurs born. Spare parts, containers of food…people were building. There was confidence all across Guyana. The underground trade in foreign currency, drugs, fuel smuggling and cross border trade was firmly taking its grip. The suitcase traders were in full swing and new opportunities were knocking.
Guyana was starting to look up. The concentration was on wiping off our debts and raising our creditworthiness with the lending agencies and donors.
I have always said it and will continue to tell my few close friends. There has been lots of good that both the PNC and PPP/C did for our country.
Burnham left us with a legacy of infrastructure that included the Soesdyke/Linden Highway and the Demerara Harbour Bridge. He pushed for local production. His problem was that he did not have the right people around him and then failed to get Guyana to buy the programmes he was selling.
There were accusations later that his programmes were sabotaged. I was too young to understand, but we did hear tales of canefields being burnt as forms of protest.
The PPP did exceedingly well. We recorded growth and investments were coming.
The problem was that after a while, some of the politicians stopped listening to the people.
Strongholds were left unattended and the absence of local government elections saw the emergence of a class of village leaders whose arrogance shone through, creating a divide.
People with complaints just could not meet their leaders in their air-conditioned offices.
The writing on the wall for the remarkable PPP/C rule was clear in 2011 and the elections of 2015 was for me, a repeat of 1992…albeit the shoe was on the other foot for the PPP/C.
There was some good news for Guyanese. Democracy was at work. The people had spoken. It is how our country should work.
The PPP has a lot of work to do for 2020. It has to build a brand-new leadership structure that captures the imagination and listens to the people. The Coalition Government has its challenges, too.
I like some of the changes that are happening. In the police force. At the public service level. The appointments of commissions and independent boards would also bode well. The appointments of more judges and magistrates. Improvements in the justice system.
We have passed quite a bit of legislation over the last two years. However, I do believe that this administration would have to talk a little more to its people. There are lots of questions. People voted them in, because they wanted change. As much as the truth may be painful, we have a right to know.
So yes, as media folks, we will continue to watch and to prod for those answers.
I speak of the 1990s and the years that follow, because we were concentrating on improving our finances. Many of the systems, like our narcotics laws and Constitution remained weak, with little attention being paid to modernize them. Until now, it seems.
One of the areas has always been the licensing of professionals. And of course, contractors.
I have always been complaining of the pitfalls many homeowners faced with building.
We hired contractors based on recommendations. Many families who took mortgages heeded recommendations from friends and others to hire their contractors.
I wondered how many of them took time to visit homes that their contractors built and maybe even speak to the owners. What was the experience like working with the contractors?
Did they clean up after work? Were they disciplined and turned up to work on time?
I bet 95 percent of Guyanese building their homes had no formal agreement signed with contractors, therefore little recourse.
To add salt to the wound, our court system remains backward and frustrating.
Many of the contractors raked in millions of dollars and walked away without paying NIS and taxes for workers.
The present administration will tell you that more than 50 percent of the house lots allocated in the last six or so years are still unoccupied.
I can sit and wonder idly, how many of these house lots have structures on them that are unfinished because of conflicts between the owner and the contractor.
This past week, we saw a blatant example of the pain of one woman at Farm, East Bank Demerara – Althea Thegg – who said she spent $9M to build her dream house, only to see the structure collapsing.
Thegg would have had faith in the contractor. I am sure she had plans for her new home. Like where to plant her trees and even for a little kitchen garden. Or even a prayer for the opening of the home. Her dreams came crashing down as parts of the house came down. I feel her pain.
Did that contractor have a track record in building? Did he have a registered company? What were his taxes like? Was any NIS paid? Did any inspectors from the NDC pass to ensure that construction was in keeping with the filed plan?
I would love an independent analysis on the causes for the collapse of the house and it would paint a lesson for persons who are thinking of building. There are many questions to be answered.
The Guyana Revenue Authority should know, for instance, that salaried workers like myself pay a significant amount of taxes. I was told by Glenn Lall, my publisher, that my taxes are even more annually than what some of the contractors, who tender and win state projects, pay.
The authority should also know that many contractors (or persons claiming to be contractors) pay little or no taxes at all, and will probably never collect NIS benefits and pensions.
Yet, some of these same contractors and others, with little or no contributions to the development of Guyana, will later claim for the Government pension. See where I am headed with this?
We do have a lot of fixing to do. We know the problems. However, there must be a will and haste among our policy makers to fast-track these legislative and regulatory changes that must come if we are to be protected as citizens.
So yes, licensing and monitoring to ensure we are toeing the line must become one of our top priorities, as we move this country forward. We have no other alternatives.
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