Apr 04, 2021 Editorial
Kaieteur News – We agree that debt relief is needed and support His Excellency’s call made early last week. But sympathetic debt relief should not be viewed as the passport to repeat the leadership errors of the past and present. There have been monumental errors made through leadership debt recklessness, which have crippled citizen and country. Those expensive debt errors must be shunned like the serious sicknesses they are.
For starters, debt appeals made, and potential debt forgiveness extended, provide an opportunity for leaders to appreciate that major mistakes were made with money, the peoples’ money: how much was unwisely borrowed; how wastefully, if not criminally, it was spent. Though we believe that we are speaking into the wind, we persist: today’s government and leaders must not travel the wide, inviting debt road again. We call upon leaders in the PPP government to have the honesty to recognise that too much debt, such as they are trapping us in today, is a future curse. A curse to be avoided in the present to promise a less debt-plagued future, where we have to be begging again for debt forgiveness. Leaders must listen and make a start to clean up themselves and the mess that they make. Resolve not to enslave nation and peoples again.
We also point out to President Ali that debt relief is not an entitlement. It is the courtesy of favourable consideration, the generosity that is part of charity and, in some respects the duty of advanced and rich First World countries to lend a helping financial hand to those poor societies that need it the most, and need such debt relief in significant quantity most urgently. Let beggar’s hat in hand not be ours.
Undoubtedly, the COVID-19 pandemic has badly hurt many countries across the globe. A part of the punishment of the pandemic is to condemn already poor and struggling societies to a deeper state of poverty and burdening struggle. Countries cannot carry their weight, respond to the needs of their people, or see their way out of the economic contractions and devastations. They are limited in how they can plan for the future, since the present is so filled with trouble and gloom. The ‘highly indebted countries’ plentifully dotted around the world in much of Africa, parts of Asia, and right here in the Caribbean and Latin America need that ease from debt service, through debt forgiveness. What was hard before, has today, been made unimaginably more difficult by the long running brutal assaults of the pandemic.
Because of all of the above elements, which represent only a high-level smattering of the woes, the human traumas, that afflict poorer societies presently, we back President Ali in his appeal for timely and material debt relief. He is on the right track, made his play at the right forum, before the right people. His audience has the resources, the deep pockets and strong finances to do something to give smaller, poorer countries a little breathing space, and some precious space in which to find their feet and function. But, as we say this in support of the president, we share another aspect of debt that may not be so warmly welcomed by either he or his people. Regardless of the reception, we have a duty to be frank with the president and table our cards where Guyana’s debt is concerned.
We, therefore, exhort President Ali: learn from the costly mistakes of others, who were there before us with abundant oil, and made the same uncaring and unheeding decisions that we are embarking upon today. We encourage the President and his team, his Vice President, his economic gurus, to examine where other oil producing countries are today, given how they went about incurring massive debt burdens, ensnaring themselves in vice-like debt traps. Observe how those societies are barely breathing, how limited they are in honouring debt obligations. Many poor countries got carried away by their newfound oil wealth and splurged on gaudy projects, made possible by extravagant borrowings, many such projects are now unfeasible and unsustainable.
Today, the failed and non-performing projects furnish evidence of enormous waste, the utter lack of leadership prudence. Today, there are the agonising hangovers, and the bitter memories of what was done wrong. It is how thrilling debt sprees when they were occurring. There is jarring reality now that the debt binges have ground to a halt, of the immensity of what was engaged in, and what must be faced now. Delivery has to be made to the debtors, except that it is not there in quantity and substance – there is economic slump, little to no production, and lesser and lesser demand, since those who were once buyers of commodities are themselves in the same leaky economic boat.
Once more, we call on our own nation’s leader, President, Dr. Irfaan Ali, think again, think more sensibly, and think more carefully. Go more slowly. Do not go about these gargantuan borrowings of billions so casually, thereby adding significantly to our debt overhang. It is not free money; none of the money comes cheap, for those billions come with hefty price tags that have to be honoured by the peoples of this society at some time in the near future. Look at Nigeria and be enlightened by its plight: a great many citizens in that oil rich society exist on poverty’s doorstep. It should not be, given what they are blessed with, the riches that they once had.
We present this cautionary note in a spirit of prioritising the interests and prospects of this country, rather than with any speck of partisanship of purpose, of being critical for criticism’s sake. That would be self-defeating for all of us, not helping anyone, but hurting us, too. We recognise that it is highly likely that this warning and urging will fall on deaf ears, since all the indications are that leaders, from the president all the way down, are set in their ways, and will not be restrained from barrelling ahead into the unforgiving jaws of more and more debt. Just the contemplation of that, only makes the probable occurrence all the more troubling. If our leaders refuse to listen, then the people will have to pay the price: lost hope, lost opportunities, lost moment when sanity and discretion in the highest councils should have prevailed, but did not.
The only savior of Guyana.
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