Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The return of Casino Capitalism

In the Diaspora-The return of Casino Capitalism
Stabroek News weekly column. Monday May 19, 2008

The return of Casino Capitalism
Guyanese Cary Fraser is Associate Professor of African and African American Studies and History at Penn State University
By Cary Fraser

The recent announcement that Buddy’s International Hotel is being sold to a Turkish investor, Sudi Ozkan, who plans to “upgrade” the hotel by establishing it as a franchise of the Hilton or Sheraton chain, must be an embarrassment for Guyana. It would seem that the purchase and the upgrading of the hotel would result in the establishment of a casino and that the Guyana government would support the multi-million dollar investment. The final terms are still being reviewed and Mr. Ozkan had a meeting with President Bharrat Jagdeo to receive assurances of government backing for the project. The expectation seems to be that the hotel-casino project will boost tourism and Mrs. Ozkan’s comment, reported in the Stabroek News (May 13, 2008) - “This is a huge investment and we are hoping that it will open doors for many of the jobs for the locals. I think it’s a good step for Guyana especially with the crime and poverty in the country.” – suggests that there is a recognition by the investors that Guyana is a high-risk investment zone. It would seem that the lure of high returns for investors from gambling and the range of dubious services that accompany casinos, coupled with the obvious inability of the PPP government to attract investment that would stimulate both the diversification and expansion of the economy in Guyana over the long-term, have converged to drive this PPP turn to casino capitalism.
It is one of the great ironies of contemporary Guyana that the PPP, which was born of the intensification of the nationalist struggle in the 1950s, and which had committed itself to a programme to improve the lives and future of the Guyanese working classes, should have become the government that seeks to institutionalize casino capitalism as a strategy of development. Given his fastidious adherence to Marxist-Leninist doctrine, one is left to wonder what Cheddi Jagan would have made of this transformation of the party to which he had dedicated much of his adult life. It is a change that has led the PPP from being an agent of working class mobilization to becoming the facilitator of the globalization of gambling – Guyana being the latest slot machine.
Undoubtedly, Cheddi Jagan would also have been dismayed by the fact that the party’s protégé who had been sent to the Soviet Union to study economics, Bharrat Jagdeo, has demonstrated a limited understanding of the political economy of transformation that would sustain Guyanese independence into the future. As a political leader who emerged out of the sugar plantation regime, Jagan threw himself into the challenge to both the colonial order and the sugar plantations that largely defined the limits of possibilities for his generation. Key to his political engagement was the search for national independence, and for strategies to make the sugar and bauxite industries provide a basis for economic expansion that would pave the way for serious economic growth. While many may have disagreed with Jagan’s embrace of Marxist-Leninist ideology, his undoubted willingness to grow beyond the profession of dentistry into a political activist, and his deep emotional commitment to improving the lives of the sugar workers and small farmers, stood as testimony to his intellectual growth and political seriousness.
The turn to casino capitalism by the current PPP government is, in effect, a repudiation of Jagan’s legacy and his vision for both the PPP and the wider society. This development suggests that the current PPP government has embarked upon a course that is marked by intellectual incoherence and political opportunism. It is striking that in the Stabroek News article about the proposed sale of Buddy’s Hotel, it is Mrs. Ozkan who offered a statement of what the investment would offer Guyana.
It would appear that the PPP leadership was unable on this occasion to rise to the challenge of articulating a strategy for foreign investment entering Guyana. Given the fact that the hotel had to receive an infusion of cash from the Guyana government to be completed, it must be disturbing that the hotel is being sold because it is not financially viable and it is not of high quality. One is left to wonder on what basis the original investment was made and approved. In effect, a government funded white elephant is being sold to an investor in the hope that it will be productive.
The sale of Buddy’s Hotel, at its best, would suggest that the PPP government lacks the basic capacity to evaluate investment proposals. Several questions immediately arise. First, how does a government headed by an economist demonstrate such intellectual poverty in matters of economic analysis? Is there any reason to believe that the government’s capacity to evaluate investment proposals has or can be improved? Has there been any serious effort to evaluate the business plan submitted by Mr. Ozkan or is this simply a fire sale? In effect, is there any confidence that the sale of Buddy’s Hotel will translate into a serious approach by the government to the development of the tourism sector, such as it is, as an engine of economic growth?
The saga of Buddy’s International Hotel from its origins to its current fate provides very powerful insights into the intellectual bankruptcy that has overtaken the PPP since the death of Cheddi Jagan. Bharrat Jagdeo will be leaving office after this current term and his legacy will be one of unrelenting failure in terms of economic development. It will also be a record tainted by the Ronald Gajraj and Roger Khan episodes which both contributed to the image of unsolved violent and barbaric crimes that have overtaken Guyanese society, and which has done much to undermine the climate for attracting serious investors. The government’s involvement in the entire Buddy’s Hotel episode – from the initial review of the project to the current sale - suggests a lack of professional competence and a failure to follow elementary fiduciary guidelines for assessing investments.
Mrs. Ozkan’s comment revealed much more than she intended – the Guyana government is led by people who cannot explain what has happened to the society which they govern. The current leadership lacks a sense of history and has little understanding of the role of their predecessors and the struggles that they led.
Their management of the state, its assets, and the country’s infrastructure is the mirror image of the political and intellectual decline that has shaped Guyana’s trajectory since the 1970s. Further, the ship of state under the captaincy of the PPP since 1997 has drifted far from its moorings, without a rudder, and is headed for the shoals. What must Cheddi Jagan be thinking?
(This is one of a series of fortnightly columns from Guyanese in the diaspora and others with an interest in issues related to Guy-ana and the Caribbean)

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