Jul 02, 2022 Letters
The United Nations has declared July 2 as ‘International Day of Cooperatives’. This year will mark the 100th International Day of Cooperatives and will be observed under the theme ‘Cooperatives Build a Better World’
According to the International Cooperative Alliance (ICA); ‘an independent association that unites, represents and serves cooperatives worldwide,’ three million cooperatives on earth contribute to sustainable economic growth and stable, quality employment. Today, the cooperative movement accounts for at least 12 % of humanity. Further, the top 300 cooperatives in the world generate 2.14 trillions USD in turnover. Cooperatives provide jobs or work opportunities to 280 million people across the globe.’
The cooperative movement has been successful in Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden and Italy. The largest coop banks by turnover in the world are to be found in France and Germany. China has 1.48 million cooperatives throughout the entire country with 100 million households as members with at least two coops in each of China’s 680,000 villages. The single biggest cooperative in the world is in India reaching 50 million farmers with around 35,000 member cooperatives. Nepal has 30,000 cooperatives with 45 million members and is known as the ‘country of cooperatives’ with cooperatives being one of the three pillars of the country’s national economy while Brazil has a total of 6,828 cooperatives.
According to the International Labour Organization (ILO) registered and active cooperatives can be found in Botswana, Ethiopia, Kenya, Lesotho, Rwanda, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zanzibar. What about the cooperative movement in Guyana?
For quite sometime now, the word ‘cooperative’ has been a bad word in Guyana. It is frowned upon as some quaint outfit that has no relevance in a liberal democracy nor in a full-fledged market economy. There is also a degree of ethnicization wrongly attached to coops in Guyana.
But it’s not so much the concept and philosophy behind cooperatives that is indigestible for many, on the contrary, it’s more the strong political influence in its implementation as well as the experiences under the PNC that reminds Guyanese of an era with which they have either bitter experiences or no knowledge as to why there is a stigma attached to our Constitution declares that Guyana shall be known as ‘the Cooperative Republic of Guyana.’ Ever since Guyana became a republic, no government has ever considered tinkering with the country’s official name by seeking to delete the word cooperative, perhaps because the word never caused any noticeable rejection nor discomfort of any kind amongst the populace. Nor has it triggered social commotion in any section of our multi-ethnic society. Yet, as if in contradiction to the official name of our country, our passports are marked ‘Republic of Guyana.’ An explanation as to why the word cooperative is not included is hard to come by.
Changes to the official name of any country is obviously fraught with many imponderables too difficult and complicated to imagine not to mention the constitutional implications a name change can engender. At least we find comfort in the song 🎶Let Us Co-operative For Guyana🎶
The word cooperative became a stigma since the days of the Burnham era when cooperatives were used by the ruling elites as a machinery for accumulating wealth and to provide scarce food items, household supplies and tools of trade, on a discriminatory basis, to supporters of the PNC through cooperatives masquerading as ‘Knowledge Sharing Institutes’ (KSI’s).
Under the PNC, cooperatives were allowed to become shareholders in state-owned enterprises such as the Guyana National Cooperative Bank; the Guyana Agricultural Cooperative Development Bank, and the Guyana Cooperative Mortgage Finance Bank, in that way, they were allowed to enrich themselves through state patronage at the expense of the people. In those days, cooperates were permitted to purchase shares in state enterprises, the objective was to enable the cooperative sector to become the dominant sector in the economy. Many companies associated with the PNC began masquerading as cooperatives and through political patronage, secured lucrative contracts and facilities. As cooperatives, they avoided paying taxes.
At that time, the belief was that cooperatives will be the vehicle by which socialism will be built in Guyana. Nowadays, no one doubts that Guyana is a full-fledged capitalist society with the state and private sectors, minus cooperatives, being the engines of growth and development.
The politicization of cooperatives under the PNC aside, it is important to point out that in earlier times co-operative societies made remarkable progress in the then British Guiana.
At one time there were 554 cooperative societies in British Guiana.
Of the 554 regis¬tered societies, 552 were primary and 2 secondary societies. The primary societies consisted of Savings, Thrift, School Thrift, Agricultural Thrift and Credit (including one of unlimited liability), Urban Thrift and Credit (including Credit Unions), Consumer (including for the supply of electricity), Producer/Marketing (including Farm Machinery), Land Lease/Purchase, Farm Supply, Logging, Consumer, Transport, Fishermen, Housing and General Purpose. The secondary societies were the B.G. Co-operative Credit Union Ltd. and the B.G. Co-operative Society.’ Today, there are approximately 2,164 and 30 active and inactive Coop Societies and 30 credit Unions respectively on the Ministry of Labour’s Register. In it 1997 Programme, the PPP called for: ‘an expansion of the state and cooperative sectors…’
It is to be regretted that while cooperatives in all continents of our planet are thriving and contributing to building a better world, we in Guyana have made cooperatives our own worst enemy when in fact we should consider them a key pillar for building a better Guyana. Rather than being relegated to a misnomer in our societal makeup, Cooperatives should be made into living realities helping to improve the well-being of our people.
Clement J. Rohee
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