Members of the Institute contributed (from afar) to the 2020 Green Economy Symposium hosted by the University of Guyana. The symposium explored the challenges faced in Guyana as it looks to accelerate its green economy against a background of dependence on natural resource extraction and political conflict. Here is some background on the problem, co-written with Thomas Singh (University of Guyana)

Guyana is a middle-income country, rich in natural resources, but with a history of ethnic rivalry, relatively weak institutions, and a relatively large public sector. The timing of this Symposium on Social and Political Cooperation coincided with Guyana’s first exports of oil, and general elections that will give the winner control over the windfall revenues that will follow. What now exists in Guyana given the twin realities of deep divisions and resource abundance is a potential preference for intense political competition by political party leaders and their supporters, both rank-and-file and elite. There are two major political parties with ethnic constituencies, each perceiving itself (and its members) better off when its preferred political party is elected under the existing Proportional Representation (PR) electoral system to form a parliamentary government.

The fear that political competition could reinforce the tendency for noncooperation in the wider society. For its part, governments have consistently used public expenditures to allocate rents and patronage to loyal constituencies, and cultivate wider support. Perceptions, expectations and actual public expenditures work together to produce what appears to be an equilibrium of race-based politics and social fragmentation in an undiversified economy that depends heavily on natural resource rents. What is more disturbing however is that the PR electoral system and the parliamentary form of government that prevail in Guyana are associated with the use of natural resource rents and public expenditure policy in a manner that would reduce the incentives for cooperation among the political parties and the nation at large. In fact, even participation in civic organizations which is supposed to promote social capital in a country, is associated with a quest to increase the benefits – often this means access to natural resource and other rents – of belonging to a club or a network, and hence this participation might promote “negative” as against positive social capital.

Indeed, both as a result and as a consequence of the quest for access to rents, there is a diverse set of social networks with bases ranging from race, religion, and politics to wealth and social status that often overlap and interconnect, but still retain their fundamental identities, to produce a fairly complex socio-economic order. Finally, a rejection of rules-based interactions in favour of relation-based interactions, with the voting patterns that reflect this cultural-anthropological reality, makes it difficult to institutionalize cooperation in the country.