GUYANA: Opinion: Oil money and poverty – Stabroek News Editorial

EDITORIAL By December 30, 2022

However, Sunday Stabroek gave extreme poverty outside Georgetown a human face when it published a report on Parika Sea Dam in its Christmas Day edition. The families who live here for the most part do not know where their next meal will come from. They live in run-down shacks which they lack the resources to rebuild or fix properly, and we carried photos to give readers an idea as to what was involved. At the moment the situation is even worse than usual because of the flooding, although the residents normally have to face this in any case during the spring tide. It was no surprise to learn that the mud road was in a deplorable state with huge potholes which filled with water after every rainfall, while the children found it difficult to negotiate their way to school and clean their muddied footwear.

There is no running water, so rainwater has to be collected for cooking and drinking purposes, and of course there is no electricity. Needless to say too, the area has not been regularised and no one in authority has ever come to see them to make an assessment. This is despite the fact that the settlement has been there for forty years when residents first arrived as squatters because they had nowhere else to live.  There was Mr Ramesh Takah, 44 years of age, who suffers from severe diabetes which has not been brought under control and is now affecting the vision in his right eye.

He was feeling very stressed when our reporter visited because he was unable to do any gardening owing to the flooding. With a wife, six daughters and a son to maintain, he works as a labourer on a boat but is unable to do that at the moment owing to his health. He sometimes earns a little money to “watchman boats” as he put it, when they dock near his home.

Then there was Ms Nandranie Budhoo, 27 years old, who has three sons aged two, seven and eight. As we reported, her husband is a pushcart operator, and while he had brought home some money the day before, there were many days when he would return empty handed and there would be no money for food. They live in what was described as a ramshackle house with rusted roofing sheets which were perforated and through which the water leaked. They had put a tarpaulin on the roof, but that had not proved a fully effective deterrent against the entry of the rain, and so then they would place a saucepan to catch the water. They had few household items, said our reporter, and these included a “bed, a little chair, a kerosene stove and some plates and cups”. Ms Alita Singh, 22 years old, was standing at the bottom of the stairs of her derelict home when SN visited. She was pregnant, and had two children aged three and four. The rotting house which belongs to her mother was leaning on one side, and the veranda collapsed recently. Her reputed husband does maintenance work on the boats, but it is not regular, and he barely earns enough to provide for the family. Ms Elizabeth Bowlin’s tiny shack has no bedroom and only a little space for their kitchen and a bed. Her husband uses a spot outside the house to carry on his work as a barber, but he does not get work every day. She has two children, aged 15 and two. Sabita Venus too finds life hard. Her husband is a pushcart operator and she has a thirteen-year-old daughter.

So what does one say about a country which has had what the World Bank described as extraordinary economic growth of 20-40% over the last two years that brought GDP per capita to over US$9,300 in 2021? It might be remarked that that figure will be even higher now. But what does a GDP per capita figure of US$9,300 mean to people who live in broken-down shacks and don’t know where their next meal is coming from?

Our politics has been poisonous of course. Our politicians have been mainly obsessed with each other, and their interest in voters has always revolved around ensuring that they cast their ballot for the ‘right’ party, whichever that may be. Where ordinary people are concerned, as opposed to the very affluent, political allegiances have been defined by ethnicity, not by which party will best help the impoverished of all races. It is only very recently it is true, that a government has had the financial resources to make  poverty a thing of the past, but perversely, this administration appears to be operating on a trickle-down basis, an approach which has long since been found to be flawed.

The first thing any administration needs to do in order to find out exactly how much extreme poverty exists and where it is to be found, is to actually go out in the field to assess the situation. Why is it that we are always reliant on organisations like the World Bank for knowledge about ourselves? At least where the coast is concerned, local authorities should be roped in and charged by central government to identify areas like Parika Sea Dam, and give numbers, etc.

On the basis of that information the various ministries could visit and interview residents. As said earlier, they are already hurtling into NDC areas at a senior level to find out what the residents want, so there should be no particular challenges identifying officials to undertake exchanges with the truly poor who fall outside the system and listen to how they think they might best be helped. Responses to needs no doubt would vary according to area and individual, but one suspects that in the first instance at least the authorities would need to adjust some existing policies, particularly in the matter of housing. Perhaps they should look at social housing, as is done in some other parts of the world, which would involve no financial outlay on the part of the resident initially, but who could make payments according to capacity over time.

At the time the report on the World Bank figures was published the Leader of the Opposition condemned the government in a press release for its inaction on poverty. It might be said that his party has a role to play as well.  The urban areas are under APNU control, so what is preventing their local authorities from identifying sectors or streets or even families where extreme poverty is in evidence. Furthermore, he does not have to confine himself to local authorities where his own party is dominant.

He could send his members along the coast to all areas including Indian ones, to catalogue zones where true poverty exists. At the moment he is consumed by political cases in the courts, but whatever happens here it will not help his constituents, it will not help his party and it certainly will not help the impoverished.

The most difficult part of the country to deal with is the hinterland, where the highest rates of extreme poverty exist. The problem is made more acute not just by the geography involved, but also because all governments in this country have had a paternalistic attitude to the Indigenous people heavily contaminated by politics. They are simply not in the habit of taking on board what the village councils tell them they want, let alone truly consulting them or listening to them in the first place. Dr Janette Bulkan’s letter which also appeared in our Christmas Day edition about the carbon credits scheme is an excellent illustration of this.

Eliminating extreme poverty in this country, therefore, will be a matter of consultation and not simply imposition from above. And consultation is certainly not this government’s strong suit.

The money is certainly there to do it; as we reported Guyana has earned about US$2 billion in oil money over the last three years. Why, it might be asked, are we then wasting it on dubious projects like the gas to shore enterprise whose benefits are uncertain for everyone, and non-existent for Mr Takah, Ms Budhoo, Ms Singh, Ms Bowlin, Ms Venus and thousands more like them who are living in shacks, and many of whom are not even guaranteed a meal every day?

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  • guyaneseonline  On 12/30/2022 at 9:09 pm

    No improvement in Guyanese standard of living despite oil – Forde
    Dec 30, 2022 News
    …accuses Govt. of accessing billions of dollars while families stretching small incomes
    Kaieteur News – The Guyana Government would have withdrawn revenue from the Natural Resource Fund (NRF) three times this year since receiving income from its oil sector. The money amounted to more than US$600M or more than a GY$100B.
    Despite this windfall cash growing this year’s budget to the largest the country has ever seen, Shadow Attorney General and Legal Affairs Minister Roysdale Forde said that quality of life for the ordinary Guyanese saw “…negligible to zero improvement…”

    Shadow Attorney General and Legal Affairs Minister Roysdale Forde
    Forde said that prices increased a hundredfold on some essential items resulting in greater financial burden for families. “Having to cut and contrive for those who can’t afford, and to make ends meet, many, including pensioners and single-parent mothers, are finding it difficult to serve nutritious meals, maintain a roof over their heads, pay transportation and utilities bills, and save for a rainy day.”
    In his latest writing ‘From the desk of Roysdale Forde SC’ published in the Village Voice, the Member of Parliament (MP) said that thrice this year, the government dipped into the NRF. In May, US$200M was withdrawn, in July another US$200M, and this month US$207.6M. Forde said that the 2022 Budget was the largest ever. Guyana expects to earn more than US$ 1 billion from oil and gas, and the economy is projected to grow by 60 percent.
    “By no stretch of imagination is Guyana a poor country,” he said. “Guyana is ranked among the world’s fastest growing economies, but the growth and spending are leaving the majority behind because of structural discrimination, nepotism and corruption.”
    This discrimination, the MP said has a face and those affected are feeling it. “A pensioner is expected to subsist on $28,000 per month. The average salary for public sector workers, many of whom are single parents, is less than $90,000 per month. The entry level salary for a police constable is $102,000 per month. A significant number of men and women in uniform are earning less than $130,000. Many teachers, tasked with the noble responsibility to mould our children’s minds, earn less than $150,000 per month. A worker with a $8M house mortgage pays $60,000 per month to the bank. The minimum rental for a decent unfurnished, 2 bedroom- house, with the basic amenities, in southern Georgetown, is about $ 60,000 per month. Not to mention the cost of electricity, kerosene and/or gas and other essentials.”
    Forde added that in the last two years inflation has risen steadily, reducing the purchasing power of the dollar. Guyana’s inflation rate for 2021 was 5.03%, a 4.04% increase from 2020; for 2019, the rate was 2.09%; in 2018, the rate was 1.28%, a 0.62% decline from 2017. In 2022, the International Monetary Fund projected inflation will rise to 9.4 %. It is becoming increasingly difficult for workers to survive on their salaries, Forde posited. He said that, “as families are stretching themselves thin on small incomes the government has been withdrawing billions from the Natural Resource Fund (NRF) but the sum has had no direct impact on the lives of ordinary people.”
    He submitted that President Irfaan Ali’s ‘One Guyana’ is not about all of Guyana and that the government has repeatedly demonstrated this attitude by the way it treats the majority of Guyanese, with scant regard. He said the government’s election campaign promise of a 50% increase to all public servants, after more than two years in government, the president has not delivered. Instead, unilaterally tossing less than 20% increase in wages and salaries to public servants, in recent years, is as discriminatory as it can get, Forde said. He reminded that in 2020 public servants received no increase from the government. He said that in 2021, they were tossed a 7 % taxable increase, and in 2022 an 8 % taxable increase.
    “Meanwhile, the government has been facilitating the massive transfer of state wealth and awarding huge contracts to the identified ‘one Guyana.’ Flagrant disregard for public sector workers and the vulnerable in our midst continues despite evidence of the vast economic disparities and repeated advice to pursue political inclusion and shared prosperity.”
    Forde highlighted that senior members of the US President, Joe Biden’s administration, and most recently the resident US Ambassador, have also urged the PPP to act responsibly. He said that a recent World Bank Report (October 2022) drew attention to the ignored inequities, noting the: “Negative impacts of the pandemic on household income, food insecurity and children’s education persisted in 2021 with about half of households (49 percent) reportedly experiencing lower total household income compared to the period before the pandemic.” “Guyana’s national poverty headcount, the share of the population living below US$5.5 a day, is among the highest in the Latin America and Caribbean region at around 48 percent.” Forde reported. He said that Guyana’s structural discrimination can only be dismantled when the People’s Progressive Party government stops the selfishness of ‘one Guyana’ and acts responsibly and govern in the interest of all Guyana.

    • Brother Man  On 12/30/2022 at 9:47 pm

      Look who running de show.
      It’s like de tiefman becomes de bank teller.

  • Age  On 12/30/2022 at 10:12 pm

    This oil production is like colonial extraction. In Canada, they pay the Canadian man at least CAD$100,000 a year to dig trenches in Alberta oil sands, but in Guyana I hear that Guyanese labourers and cooks get paid about than G$100,000 a month if they work on the vessels.

  • wally  On 12/31/2022 at 12:46 pm

    problems problems problems..not a solution…in sight????

    • Age  On 12/31/2022 at 6:37 pm

      The diaspora have intelligent people willing to help change the country, but unfortunately, as seen in this wordpress blog, and in the newspapers, the idea that the diaspora “do not live in Guyana” and thus be excluded is the raison-d-etre to live under the current status quo in Guyana while dissing the diaspora activists.

      In other words, the lineups for free money at Western Union and Moneygram will be a legacy for the government, that is, if the diaspora don’t smarten up and demand change for the locals to get a piece of the oil wealth.

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