WHEN the specialist examined my eyes last year, she pronounced with satisfaction that I had “20-20 vision”. I was seeing small objects and letters, even in the distance.
I was elated, therefore when, during Cabinet sitting last Tuesday, the multi-agency, expert group headed by United Nations Environment Programme Director for Latin America and the Caribbean, Leo Hileman, handed President David Granger their policy recommendations for Guyana’s Green State Development Strategy (GSDS), sub-titled “Vision 2040”. The GSDS strategy was received from this vision projects far into the future, and shows “an inclusive and prosperous Guyana that provides a good quality of life for all its citizens based on sound education and social protection, low-carbon resilient development, new economic opportunities, justice, and political empowerment”.
MAN WITH PLAN
With the policy document in his hands, President Granger appeared to be the proverbial “man with the plan” for what he calmly and reassuringly described as our “Green State”.
According to the experts, the Strategy resulted from wide consultation with stakeholders from which, initially, a Framework Paper was produced after those “green conversations”.
They explained that with huge revenues from oil and gas, the Strategy will guide public investment on a “hard infrastructure” programme to expand production in the agriculture, forestry and energy sectors, and modernize land, sea and air transport and telecommunications. Injecting “high ambition” into agriculture, the vision sees land expansion by 100%, and gross domestic product at a high of $720 billion by 2040. Agriculture is projected to provide as many as 116,000 jobs in this period. These are projections that could be realized, given financing of the strategy in this sector.
I left for New York yesterday morning and it was not possible to read and digest the expansive learning from the 215-page ‘Vision’ paper, which is now available for reviews and open to criticisms. What I find strange, however, is a comment in a section of the media that the Guyana Opposition party does not share the “vision” in the Strategy Paper, or finds it deficient.
For me, this has to be a shared vision since it deals with the goals of the entire nation. The Opposition cannot stay on the sideline and torpedo it just to spite the Coalition Government. It cannot want a re-play of the shameless rejection of the National Development Plan on ideological grounds that it included recommendations for the privatization of the sugar industry. I was among those who, in keeping with “party line”, voted in parliament against the Plan for the long-term development of our country.
APPEASING POLITICAL BASE
The PPP then was determined to appease its political base; but in the end, it presided over the destruction of the sugar industry, and eventually, its own demise as government. It had put forward a half-baked plan of modernisation of the Skeldon sugar factory. Without Skeldon, its leader had said, the sugar industry is dead. And his prophesy was fulfilled.
In politics, we must all learn from our mistakes, so the better approach now should be for the opposition to come on board as a partner in national development and to make an early pitch for possible inclusion on the “Vision 2040 Council” that would manage and execute this strategy. The know-it-all as well as the negative and condemnatory opposition-as-usual approaches are not helpful to even opposition supporters who suffered from the economic decline. The new strategy paper examined past performance, or lack thereof, which resulted during 2013 in some 463,000 Guyanese residing abroad. It cited World Bank reports that since 1992 the average annual emigration has been 10,000 persons – a net brain-drain. That was due mainly to a jobless rate of 12 per cent. It is time, therefore, to turn that hopeless past into a vision for the future.
GREEN ECONOMY INVESTMENTS
Volume 1 of Vision 2040 looks at green economy investment in agriculture, forestry, energy and road transport infrastructure. It looks at opening new lands as it sees agriculture as a principal backbone of the green economy. It is our surest hope of escaping from the potential in a petroleum-dominated economy, from the so-called “Dutch Disease”.
In 2012, agriculture contributed 21% to the GDP, and employed 33% of the workforce. But agricultural activities occupy only 8.5% of the national land space, which invites the recommendation to expand cultivation lands, in areas away from the coast, and to beef-up inland fish farming and agro-processing. Guyana is richly endowed with fresh water and sunshine to sustain an unprecedented agricultural and aquacultural revolution.
The experts revealed that fishing has been on the decline from 60,000 tons of fish in 2003 to only 40,000 tons in recent years. It recommends recourse to deep-water fishing, and inland fish farming.
In other sections of the strategy, critical appraisals have been given of the sugar and rice industries, and what should be done to make them viable. It also examines the potentials of the fruits and vegetables industry, to satisfy the “global shift in consumer preferences towards healthier products”. It points to Guyana’s role in organic agro-processing exports, citing our 4Ps (peppers, plantains, pineapples and pumpkin) and 4Cs (coconut, citrus, cassava and carrots).
I trust that the release of the Green State Development Strategy (Vision 2040) would occasion widespread interest in the new Guyana, from now and 20 years ahead. The discussion paper should stir debates on the recommendations for complementary avenues for our country’s development, whilst we acknowledge that within the next five years, oil will account for one-half of our gross domestic product. I will continue to critically examine these policy recommendations, to identify with the many other areas for which a vision is needed for our forward movement. I invite you to do so also.