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When in August 2018 Professor Clive Thomas proposed that government should consider Cash Transfers as one way of ensuring that the people of Guyana directly benefit from the expended Oil Wealth, both major political formations balked at the idea. The then government, of which Thomas’ party, the Working Peoples Alliance, was part, suggested that Cash Transfers would encourage a culture of dependency . It preferred to spend the wealth on social programs such as education and on infrastructure. The PPP was also hesitant but intimated that instead of Thomas’s universal approach, it favored targeted grants. The APNU+AFC belatedly included the proposal in its election manifesto, but hardly campaigned on it.
It has been suggested in some quarters that had the Coalition made the proposal a central plank of its election campaign, it could have done better at the polls. In the context of an inconclusive election result, it is difficult to gauge the accuracy of that assertation. The WPA had observed that it had discovered much enthusiasm for the idea when it held a series of community meetings across the coast in 2019. It is not surprising that such an idea would be popular in a country in which poverty is widespread.
It was, therefore, surprising that both major parties did not embrace it. This publication thinks it was partly due to unfamiliarity with its success in many countries across the world and partly because the leaders did not trust the people to spend money wisely. Since the election, however, former Finance Minister, Winston Jordan has shown a more positive attitude to the idea. In fact, he said that if he were currently in office, he would utilise it as part of a larger economic approach in the face of COVID19.
The PPP for its part has taken a strange and controversial approach. Upon taking office, the government has been busy disbursing what it calls “cash grants” to the population. It gave a $ 25,000 COVID Relief grant followed by a $19,000 Education Grant. More recently, the government distributed grants as part of its flood relief package. It then moved to guarantee sugar workers who were severed by the previous government’s rightsizing initiative at GUYSUCO a hefty $250, 000 grants
This publication takes a dim view of this “grants’” In the first place, they cannot be termed Cash Transfers in the technical sense. Rather the government is using the cover of Cash Transfers to steer resources to its constituency in the most discriminatory manner. Unlike the Thomas’ proposal that targets all households, the PPP in the cases of the Flood Relief and the grant to the sugar workers is engaging in rank clientelism In the context of Guyana’s heightened political temperature, this is a very unfortunate path.
In the process, it is giving Cash Transfers a bad name. Whereas Thomas’ proposal is aimed at poverty alleviation and is universal in scope, the PPP’s grants are used to satisfy campaign promises. Having, for example, reneged on its promises to reopen the closed estates, it is seeking to bribe the workers with these grants. This is a very cynical approach that could have costly consequences. It is immoral and perhaps illegal to distribute common resources in such an overtly discriminatory manner.
For whatever it is worth, this publication supports genuine Cash Transfers as a modern form of poverty alleviation. We are confident that citizens would utilise the transfers responsible. We therefore call on the government to cease politicking and give genuine Cash Transfers to the people. Jordan’s proposal of an initial six-month grant is a good place to start.