It was hardly an exhilarating year in Guyana in 2017. Across Guyana, state and society failed. If you disagree with the word “failed” because it is too harsh, then substitute, “unimpressive” but don’t go near adjectives such as “elegant,” “successful,” “inspiring.”
It was another jejune year the rising tide of chagrin touched the shores of the entire country. In 2017, we all felt deeply for sugar workers. My conscience is clear. As soon as the writing came on the wall, I asserted in my column that the empty sugar lands must be given to them.
This is what is in my March 3, 2017 piece; “Can sugar be saved and become an earner for the economy? My heart tells me I would like to see that. My mind tells me that I would like to see that. If there is a formula to save sugar let it be published right now so the nation can see it. As for the workers, my heart bleeds for them. They should be the consideration of every one of us who live in this country. Before the sugar industry is officially closed, those workers, every one of them without exception, should be given an alternative occupation through employment or free land; and by free, I mean free in every sense of the world. Putting more than twenty thousand persons out of work with about 60,000 family members adversely affected cannot and must not be accepted by the people of this country. This is simply lunacy. If you cannot find work for them, then let the subsidized sugar industry remain.”
I would ask readers to go over the last line of that extract. That is how I felt then and still feel. Let’s move on as we reflect on 2017. It was a bad year for governance and workers’ elevation. The words of the Finance Minister still ring in my ear. He said that the 2018 budget did not have “fiscal space” (his words) to pay public servants a bonus. Some things are lost as a country gets older. When I was just a little boy I can remember workers talking about the expectant bonus once the Christmas season came. It seems that such an age is long gone.
But even if there wasn’t fiscal space to pay a bonus to state employees, how come the government had fiscal space to finance a number of huge billboards of the 2018 budget with the face of a smiling Minister of Finance extolling the accomplishments of his past budgets and the promises of his new one?
But the word “bonus” still occupied big space in 2017. The bonus man showed up in a totally different environment, dressed up in different garb, wearing a special bowtie, but his birth was opaque. What was considered an ace in a high stakes card game turned out to be a peel-neck chicken that couldn’t lay Creole eggs.
The bonus was the chicken feed of US$18 million that Exxon paid to the Government. The revelation of that chicken feed dust drove another nail in the coffin of the credibility of the APNU+AFC regime. If anything happened in 2017 that showed the leaders of this country are foolish people who are not prepared to learn about the intricate, labyrinthine networks of politics in the age of digital technology, it was the bonus secrecy.
The APNU+AFC boys and girls are really silly game-players. They had fifteen years to learn from the Jagdeo/Ramotar era, that we are living in a world where governmental capacity to hide surreptitious behaviour, stolen money and secret documents, are no longer what it used to be ages ago. They hid the bonus man in the closet since the middle of 2016. Then it came to light. Why deny it? But deny it they did, thus denting their credibility.
It certainly wasn’t a good year for President Granger. I think 2017 revealed the slowly opening door that is displaying his political immaturity, leadership limitations and strategic stagnancy. He cannot be exonerated from the bonus cover-up. It was the business of the country and its people had a right to know.
But there is a madness to the bonus man that simply boggles the mind. Granger and Nagamootoo won an election no doubt convincing the electorate that the incumbent PPP had run the affairs of the nation in eerie secrecy. How then can you repeat the identical venality that caused the PPP to lose support and credibility?
I end by saying that I think the mistakes of 2017 have caused many to wonder what the 2020 election results will be like.
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