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The multiplied oil flow in Guyana was heralded as a blessing to this nation of fewer than one million people but has given rise to another social phenomenon; that of international business corporations ‘flowing’ into this country, all with one common agenda of investing and accruing a portion of the wealth from this precious resource.
Naturally, in keeping with global trends, such responses were anticipated and greatly appreciated. Nonetheless, Guyanese citizens would demand that the requisite authorities employ sound initiatives that will morph with Guyana’s developmental agenda while ensuring that citizens benefit adequately from the nation’s patrimony.
Amidst projections of vast wealth, policymakers cannot be oblivious of the fact that Guyana’s development is inextricably linked to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), also known as the Global Goals. These statutes were adopted by the United Nations in 2015 as a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure that by 2030 our citizens enjoy peace and prosperity.
The 17 SDGs are integrated and trigger off a domino effect where positive attention in one area concomitantly affects other areas and naturally, in order to be viewed as impacting, must have positive effects on social, economic, and environmental sustainability.
Guyana has signed on to these goals and its people reasonably expect that the output will guarantee the attainment of specific targets under each SDG. Unfortunately, programmes that fall under the purview of this portfolio don’t seem to take into consideration how specific outcomes affect the whole.
Previously, the State Planning Secretariat was responsible for the execution of this mandate but apparently, those government agencies and ministries don’t seem to have a common agenda or even a clear objective to address this issue. The consensus also seems to suggest that the implementation of a central planning agency can very well address this deficiency. Unfortunately, the absence of interagency coordination has stymied the sharing of adequate information, goals, and priorities that have managed to effectively stymie the process.
Consequently, there is unnecessary, misaligned, or duplicated work which all impede agility and adaptability and eventually slow down programme implementation and affect the quality of completed projects.
A classical case could be made of the Ministry of Housing and Water “1000 Home Project” in Linden, to be executed at Block 37. Notably, this area, in close proximity to an existing processing facility, comprises one of the largest bauxite reserves, in the Upper Demerara, Upper Berbice region, and perhaps the entire country. Therefore, wisdom dictates that instead of utilizing this area for human settlement, our thinkers should have realized that the area in question is more suited for, and ought to have received favorable consideration for future mining activities.
Another advantage to be had from the abandonment of the housing project is that the gas to shore initiative and the Linden Solar Farm will guarantee cheaper electricity which will bolster the operationalization of the aluminum plant, thus creating additional jobs in the municipality of Linden.
Obviously, it is a reasonable assumption that developmental programmes that have implications for land use should be guided by the National Land Use Plan and the extant individual programme and projects that impact the SDGs. This will allow for the implementation of appropriate measures to reduce or eliminate the negative impact on any of the SDGs. The case at Block 37 Linden, clearly shows that building houses in the proposed location will greatly curtail the capacity of income-generating activities in the long term. This alone should have triggered a rethink by government officials.
Another compelling view is further strengthened as we observe the many countries around the world grappling with the negative impact of climate change coupled with a ballooning population. Obviously, government officials are expected to allocate the best available lands for paralleled projects.
Consequently, in relation to housing development, the government should steer clear of establishing human settlements on arable plots along the coastal plain. Unfortunately, such commonsensical approaches were discarded by Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo, who myopically threatened to repossess lands in Wales WBD for housing development when, in fact, those lands were identified for agricultural purposes.
The enforcement of the Land Use Plan (LUP) and zoning regulations has always been a challenging prospect and various groups comprising of contractors, municipalities, NDCs, the EPA, and CH&PA among others, have been reluctant to enforce the various statutes like the LUP, zoning regulations, the Town and Country Planning Act, and the Environment Protection Act. Such laissez-faire attitudes have forced some citizens to seek redress in court to resolve raging land conflicts.
Additionally, a number of areas in the city: Alberttown, Queenstown, and Surbryanville, as well as a few along the East Bank corridor, have been converted from residential/light commercial to mixed land use. Falling into this group are the serene residential wards in Georgetown such as Alberttown, Queenstown, and Surbryanville among others. The adverse effect of such poor planning is the transition of the aforementioned communities from peace and tranquility to boisterous uncontrolled havens, saturated with unsavory activities ranging from brothels to gambling joints among others.
When employing developmental factors such as community improvement, one must factor in unsavory and unwanted behavior which, even though is difficult to totally eliminate, can be restricted to a bare minimum.
Arguably, an insatiable appetite for rapid development should be guided by common sense with adequate and appropriate laws, and regulations being enacted and enforced. Planners must think in a broad-based way and consider all possible outcomes. Bureaucrats and technocrats also have an important role to play and should guide policymakers in sound decision-making. Further, political directorates should not get involved in the work of regulatory agencies to grant approvals that are not in the best interest of the nation and environment.
The nation at large will obviously applaud developmental initiatives but one should not expect such platitudes on the altar of lawless, misguided decisions. A very important point to note; settling for mediocre works can have an adverse boomerang effect and the view cannot be over-exaggerated; bad decisions cause more harm than good.