In the midst of the current political uncertainties which have bedeviled our nation for almost four months now, we must still find time to observe and celebrate International Co-operatives Day – 2020. This year, the celebrations are being held in restricted ways under the theme. “Co-operatives For Climate Change: Amidst COVID-19” The original theme which was determined by the Committee For the Promotion and Advancement of Co-operatives is: “Co-operatives for Climate Action” but we in the Co-operative Republic of Guyana have amended it to include ‘Amidst COVID-19’ because of the devastating impact which the pandemic has had and continues to have on our economy. The pandemic has forced governments and international agencies to amend their policies and programmes but that does not mean that we have to stand still and await the end of the disaster. By now it is no secret that the coronavirus disease is global in effect and like most sicknesses, it has threatened to ‘roll back’ the progress made in economic and human development during the recent decades. Certainly, that is not the agenda of the ‘Co-operative Ethos’ which holds great promise for expansion of the Life Chances of all mankind, especially the ordinary man. It has been our custom to annually celebrate International Co-operative Day with rallies, workshops, and other activities which necessitate the assembling of our comrades and co-operators to reflect on the gains they would have made by giving true meaning to proverb ‘Being Each Other’s Keeper’. Unfortunately, this year we are unable to do so because of the practice of Social Distancing as a means of preventing the spread of COVID-19. I am sure that, that is a painful reality to all co-operators throughout the world, who relish the opportunity to meet, greet and bond with each other. The original theme which placed the spotlight on climate change directs attention to United Nations Sustainable Development Goal #13 which requires subscribing nations to, “Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts”. Our inclusion of the COVID-19 component brings into focus SDG #3 which envisages that our government would facilitate and promote healthy lives and well-being for all citizens regardless of age, class, etc. Earlier, I pointed out that our country is currently being affected by uncertain political circumstances but I am now compelled to remind the world at large of Article one of our National Constitution which serves to clarify our purpose as a nation and the true title of this country. For those reasons, it is expedient that, that Article is referenced in its entirety: It reads as follows
“Guyana is an indivisible, secular, democratic sovereign state in the course of transition from capitalism to socialism and shall be known as the Co-operative Republic of Guyana”.
This description of our country is quite straight forward but having regard to recent political developments locally, regionally and internationally, I would invite all Guyanese to meditate on the phrases “democratic sovereign state”, and “transition from capitalism to socialism”. Historical records have shown that the political, economic, social and philosophical foundations of our nation rest upon the pillars of sovereignty, democracy and co-operativism which stand in contra-distinction to colonialism capitalism and neo- colonialism which are rooted in victimisation; exploitation and human suffering. Our commitment to co-operativism is inextricably linked to the attainment of Republic status in 1970. In a speech by the then Head of State to his party’s conference under the theme, “The Power of Co-operative Ownership,” he highlighted the thinking which informed the change in the nation’s status when he said: “In becoming a Republic, I consider it absolutely necessary that this change be identified with a Guyanese national hero and for the reasons I have outlined, Cuffy shall be that hero.” In becoming a Republic, we remove the psychological ties with the British Monarch, which in many cases have inhibited the thinking and coloured the attitudes of several Guyanese. I have to say that inherent in the spirit of co-operativism and Republican status is the liberation of our thought processes which can truly make us free and independent. Yet after more than 50 years, there are some individuals who were born right here and by their own doings in conjunction with their foreign friends and enemies, are trying to undermine the co-operation, peace, unity, and social cohesion which are being fostered by this government. In many respects, they are no different to those persons who, in 1969, with the assistance and aid of foreign forces, led an armed uprising in the Rupununi district, against a legitimately elected government. While some persons are prophesying doom over our Republic, others are inciting and inviting foreign powers to inflict economic and political sanctions on us. Never-the-less, as we observe International Co-operatives Day, all Guyanese are encouraged to remain focused, band themselves together in the spirit of harmony as we collectively endeavour to provide a good life for everyone. We are advised that the theme “Co-operative For Climate Action,” was chosen with the intention of influencing policy makers and co-operators to direct their attention to the need to take steps to avoid and or alleviate the adverse effects which climate change has been having on our environment and production capacities. Within the realms of co-operatives, climate change is said to have the greatest impact on vulnerable and disadvantageous groups especially those involved in agricultural activities.
As a nation which takes global warming, climate change and economic and human development seriously, we have taken at least three major initiatives to promote climate action and it is expected that co-operative societies would be acting in conformity within the parameters of those initiatives which are: (i) The signing by the APNU+AFC Government of the Paris Agreement, which is designed to promote the mitigation of the negative consequences of climate change, etc. (ii) The crafting and implementation of our Green State Development Strategy: Vision 2040. This is a comprehensive and holistic agenda which embraces a number of programmes including the sustainable development of our human and natural resources. Central to this strategy is the issue of low carbon development within the context of climate change. (iii) The development of a National Co-operative policy. This policy is positioned within the framework of “The Good Life; Towards a Green Economy; Securing Guyanese interests in an emerging Oil and Gas sector”. In all three foregoing initiatives Co-operative Societies are expected to conduct their affairs in such manner that they do not inflict harm on their immediate environment. As a matter of fact, the key stakeholders which are responsible for the implementation of all co-operative related initiatives i.e the Co-operatives Development Department within the Ministry of Social Protection, the Guyana Co-operative Credit Union League Limited, the Guyana National Co-operative Union Limited and the Kuru-Kuru Co-operative College are mandated to educate and sensitise their clients on the fundamentals of those initiatives. Our ‘Republic’ has experienced the wrath of climate change in 2005 as a consequence of what became known of the Great Floods of that year (2005). Also we have been experiencing floods in various hinterland locations attributed to torrential rains precipitated by climate change. We are therefore imploring all co-operatives and co-operators to play their part and take the necessary action to reduce the greenhouse effects. By itself climate change has disturbed economies, production, production processes and livelihoods on every continent in the world and with the advent with COVID-19, such disruptions have been intensified. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has submitted that, ‘the global climate system’ is being subjected to increasing pressures from human activities. Therefore all groups including Co-operative Societies must make a concerted and collaborative effort to protect planet earth. In fact, the WHO noted also that there is a correlation between climate change and certain types of illnesses and diseases including water-borne diseases. As consequence of COVID-19, which has resulted in reduced manufacturing, agricultural and other production processes, the greenhouse effect has slowed down but it is likely to increase once the pandemic is over. Economic activities will be intensified in an effort to regain lost ground, and in the process climate change and greenhouse effect may be expanded. The total spectrum of human relations inclusive of the production relations will continue to change pursuant to COVID-19 and co-operative societies are called upon to play their part in the establishment of a new status quo designed to make planet earth more sustainable. The structure of the Co-operative Sector in Guyana is held together by the aforementioned stakeholders which are Co-operatives Development Department within the Ministry of Social Protection, the Guyana Co-operative Credit Union League Limited, the Guyana National Credit Union Ltd. (GNCUL) and the Kuru Kuru Co-operative College. They operate collectively for the smooth functioning of societies, which with the advent of our anti-money laundering legislations now fall under the proverbial microscope and periscope. Integrity and transparency are key values which societies must now embrace, if they are to retain their positions of relevance in the economic systems. During the COVID-19 era, which we are hopeful would soon be over, societies like most other organisations have been constrained in the execution of their functions, but the Ministry of social Protection commends those which were able to adjust willingly and co-operatively in the delivery of services to their members and societies at large. In this regard, commendations are in order for the credit unions which found it necessary to innovatively assist their members with soft loans to cushion the sudden economic impact which accompanied the pandemic. In addition, credit unions during the on-set of the pandemic, facilitated loss at reduced rates of interest and relaxed repayment regimes to assist their members to acquire sanitisation materials, and personal protective equipment including face masks. In concluding, I would recommend that all co-operative societies, including Schools’ Thrift Societies, must familiarise themselves with the Green State Development Strategy: 2040 which, as is stated in its executive summary, is designed to provide a good life of quality for all citizens taking into account several factors, including low carbon development, social protection, biodiversity, etc. The fact that the strategy provides for the promotion of projects to be founded on the principles of sustainability is indicative that the focus and scope of co-operatives as part of a holistic economic systems is not only concerned with the provision of livelihood for the ordinary man, it is not concerned only with making the small man into the real man, but it is concerned also, with human development in a sustained way which is comforting and healthy to Planet Earth.
Cristian Abreu Hidalgo
Regards, Keith Scott Minister within the Ministry of Social Protection