Guyana sees hope for sustainable development

When Guyana's first democratically elected government in 28 years took power in 1992, it faced daunting challenges to reverse the nation's grinding poverty and sustain faith that democracy would improve citizens' lives. Major goals included swiftly privatizing state-owned industry, balancing foreign mining and forestry investments with the need to protect the country's extensive rain forests, and curtailing one of the developing world's largest foreign debts.

Within a year, with assistance from The Carter Center, the government began drafting a comprehensive development strategy--the first of its kind--intended to provide a blueprint for long-term economic growth and social development. After 18 months of research, including input from more than 200 of its local interest groups, the Guyanese government is nearing the release of its "National Development Strategy."

"The government is trying to chart a path for development in Guyana that is sustainable fiscally, environmentally and institutionally," said Gordon Streeb, director of The Carter Center's Global Development Initiative (GDI).

"The drafting process for the strategy has been one of the most participatory exercises anywhere, involving all sectors of society with an interest in the process. It is an unprecedented approach to forming national development policy."

The Guyana project is the first of its kind for the GDI, which was launched in 1993 to promote more effective use of development aid by improving partnerships between developing nations and international donors. GDI proposed the formulation of a long-term strategy to give developing nations more control in the aid process, better matching donor interests with national needs.

Guyana's draft document is both "broad and deep," examining development options at the macroeconomic and sectoral levels, including mining, environmental regulation, agriculture, forestry, fisheries and other industry, establishing policies and setting priorities among them. It also gives prominence to critical social issues, such as health care, education and gender equity. In all areas, it outlines legislative reforms necessary for implementation. The draft strategy will be disseminated throughout the country in December to allow additional interest groups to comment before it is finalized and implemented. GDI will continue to provide support through these various stages.

"The strategy takes a long-term view of our country's growth prospects and requirements and the special needs of less-favored groups in society," said Guyana President Cheddi Jagan during a meeting with international donor organizations at The Carter Center in June. "On that basis, it establishes firm foundations for continuing improvements in the standard of living of all Guyanese. This is the first time that Guyanese of all races, religions and political persuasions have come together to draft a blueprint for our future."

The Carter Center meeting also was attended by former Guyana President Desmond Hoyte, leader of the major opposition political party, and representatives of the World Bank, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). These and other agencies contributed to the drafting process, and former President Hoyte is expected to review the draft as well.

"We hope that international organizations will learn from this experiment that it is possible to have a development strategy driven by the people who will benefit from it," said former President Jimmy Carter. "The people of Guyana have come together to decide what their future strategy for development should comprise. There could hardly be a more diverse nation, yet they are finding a way to build consensus, which is the basis for consolidating and strengthening their new democracy."

Ann Carney is communications associate at The Carter Center.

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