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Undoubtedly President Irfaan Ali’s address to the recent United Nations (UN) high-level meeting on financing the 2020 Agenda for Sustainable Development in the era of COVID-19 and beyond makes interesting listening. His address, which shares similarity with the UN Development Programme (UNDP) “Framework for the Immediate Socio-Economic Response to the COVID 19 Crisis,” could suggest acceptance there will be dire socioeconomic fallout from the pandemic.
The UNDP in its assessment warns that while the “impact of the pandemic will vary from country to country, it will most likely increase poverty and inequalities at a global scale, making achievement of SDGs even more urgent.” What then, apart from the President asking the UN to pay attention to what it has already made known, is he prepared to do for Guyana.
Listening to the National Budget it is difficult to think the government has paid any serious attention to the report but now and only for repetition sake. A society that reportedly has 35 percent of its citizens living below the poverty line, is considered a low wage economy, and underemployment is prevalent, better planning was expected to get the virus under control. Instead the Budget read like the celebration of drunken pirates after a heist.
There will be splurging on new vehicles for government officials to the tune of tens of millions. There were hundreds of millions set aside to repaint newly painted buildings because of dislike for the colour. There are jobs created for the boys, including advisory positions for those incapable of properly functioning at this period of their life. There is a budget that rewards friends in the private sector and the government workers, excluding sugar workers, are left to fend for themselves.
A government that thinks $25,000.00 one off payment, the equivalent of US$125.00, is sufficient for each household as they live off the hog is not a government that cares about the people. A government that recognises the coronavirus can have socioeconomic impact on households but is stingy in recognising this for healthcare workers is a government that governs for some not for all.
A government that thinks leaving the nurses to protest and focusing only on what laws they may have broken, or thinks it is ok to say they will be paid at the appropriate time is a government that does not understand, or selectively cares about the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). There was nothing of consequence in the budget for the vulnerable and working poor. There is nothing in the budget that suggests any attention was paid to the “impending global recession” President Ali spoke of in his address. Nothing!
There is a disconnect with the President’s address and real life, the life of the ordinary man and woman who are the majority and expect no more from their government than to allow them an opportunity to thrive. Mr. Ali’s government has made no secret of being concerned about the socioeconomic impact of some communities and not all. He already said he has no apologies to make for his attention to the socioeconomic impact in the communities of sugar workers. He accused the nurses for not showing solidarity for these workers, ignoring that the healthcare workers are only saying- treat us the same way.
President Ali has an opportunity to assure the nurses that his government cares for them too. He has the opportunity to say to all Guyanese the Sustainable Development Agenda which targets the five Ps include all workers not only some. He has the opportunity not to sow seeds of division but seeds of unity. The SDG the president spoke of in his address deals with People, Peace, Prosperity, Planet and Partnerships (5Ps). A government that cannot see the interrelationship with the five Ps is a government that envisions some not all in its development goals.
The “political will” President Ali is asking other countries to cultivate, as is necessary in the new era of the pandemic, to reduce inevitable societal inequalities he could start here. His is the opportunity to make Guyana a model for others to follow. The question is, does he have the political will to? Thus far President Ali has shown no inclination.