Address by Hon. Volda Lawrence M.P., Minister of Social Protection On Hugh Desmond Hoyte’s Contribution to Social Protection 1988 – 1992
Ministers of the Government, Members of the Party, Ladies and Gentlemen, , it is indeed an honor and privilege on this momentous occasion honoring 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 – 1992. However, I would like, with your permission, to sketch a picture of his eminence before I present to you the stamp of his stewardship and economic acumen as he piloted Guyana through those very important years I alluded to above.
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 that “…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.”
Yes. Ladies and Gentlemen, 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. Hoyte’s tenure as President was fraught with challenges. In 1985, he assumed the Presidency amidst intense national and 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 Program (ERP), a comprehensive matrix of policies and measures officially initiated in 1989, designed to restore the economic viability of the country; a program 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.
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”. Described by the World Bank as a movement to economic liberalization, the ERP is said to have realized benefits immediately. “Up to 1997, Guyana’s economy grew at an average rate of 7.1 percent and fiscal and external deficits were reduced. State-owned enterprises were privatized, import substitution policies were abolished, and the government increased spending for poverty reduction.”
In fact, Ladies and Gentlemen, Hoyte’s ERP was so effective that Mr. 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 Mr. 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.”
The ERP has had to overcome constraints and problems in some of its dimensions, but it also had notable achievements and benefits, including massive write-offs of a crippling debt burden and tax reform. Under the structural adjustment implemented in Guyana, the main measures included devaluation of the exchange rate, price deregulation, wage control in the public sector, increased bank rate and privatization. Undoubtedly, this led to social repercussions in the public sector, and Hoyte mediated a number of initiatives and incentives aimed at reducing the adverse effects of the adjustment measures on vulnerable groups.
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. 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 favorably with its Caricom sisters. (Guyana 5.5%, Barbados 6%; Jamaica 5.4% and Trinidad 5% (Ferguson 1995, p96)).
The ERP led Guyana away from a closed society of socialism to that of an open one influenced by the neo-liberal model. Transparency and accountability improved and Guyana welcomed an expansion of its media landscape with the introduction of the Stabroek News and television stations such as (Anthony) Vieira’s, Rex McKay’s and (CN) Sharma’s.
Recognizing that the ERP as dictated by the Multilateral Financial Institutions had placed severe burden on people’s welfare issues and contracted social sector spending (Ferguson 1995, p. 107), President Hoyte championed the introduction of a social component of the ERP to cushion the effects of structural adjustment on people’s welfare.
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 Program (SIMAP), externally financed but controlled locally and the Secondary School Reform Program. 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. P. N. Chan, had two broad goals namely damage limitation and the promotion of sustainable development for vulnerable groups and individuals. The program embarked on activities of infrastructural rehabilitation – roads, schools health centers, 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 centers , NIS pensioners among others.
The SIMAP program took a while to get off the ground and hence, many of the benefits were actually evidenced after Mr. Hoyte’s Presidency; funding grew from G$17 million in 1989 to US$200 million in 1991. Under SIMAP, the agricultural sector had an injection of US$7.5 and the health sector (for 150,000 women of child bearing age and 80,000 young and malnourished children) US$10.3 million in 1992, fruits of the hard work put in by President Hoyte and team. In November 1992, another major aspect of the SIMAP project came on stream, the cash income supplement of $625 to 80,000 beneficiaries including pensioners and low income public servants. In addition, SIMAP was responsible for the rehabilitation of water supply and health care facilities, especially in hinterland and rural areas (Ferguson 1995, p. 116). The program also made provision for the development of Youth and Sports through the procurement of sports equipment and gear, the upgrading of sports facilities and Community Centers and Youth development programs in general. Attention was also directed at “Street Children through the expansion and upgrading of the facilities for their housing, rehabilitation, skills training and other special educational programs.
The SIMAP program/Public Service Investment Program (PSIP) and other policies and measures under the Hoyte administration are the pillars of the Guyana that blossomed during the years 1988-1992 before it plummeted in recent years. We must not forget the role of the NGOs local and international particularly the Food for the Poor which targeted the poverty alleviation sector by providing and distributing farm and medical supplies, toys, text books, food, clothes etc. Ladies and Gentlemen, the turn around that was witnessed during those years were attributable to Mr. Hoyte’s willingness and courage to make structural changes and adhere to them as deemed necessary. Mr. Hoyte, we will remember, had challenges on all fronts – local and international and at all levels – party, government and people. Public morale was at its lowest ebb, economic decline was imminent. Yet he was bold and demonstrated a strength of character for which the Guyanese nation will ever be grateful.
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 endeavor 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.