Support Village Voice News With a Donation of Your Choice.
By GHK Lall
There have been many calls for a pay increase for public servants. They have fallen on deaf ears in the PPP Government. Government leaders have settled for selective comforting of sectors and citizens that give them the biggest return where it counts -the polling booth. These charitable exercises are the invisible and inaudible messages in cash envelopes. It is: remember who was there, remember who gave when things were bad. Considering the fickle mindset of easily influenced Guyanese, it is a sensible investment by the PPP Government. Give a little now to get a lot later is the thinking behind these temporary relief measures.
Recently, the announcement came that the minimum wage was increased by just over 36% to $60,000. It is sure to cover and benefit a whole host of Guyanese locked in the economic twilight zone of this South American Dubai called Guyana. I say this on the minimum wage raise: it means a ‘little extra something’ to those with one foot in the drain, and it is sizable percentage wise. But it does not go far enough to ease the daily money agony for those living with a constant battle to hold ends together. In the bluntest terms, it means food, housing, transportation, and medicine foregone. The $16,000 raise looks good on paper, but that is as much as could be said about it, and that it is better than nothing. And in a country where the State media is proud to trumpet a thriving second quarter economy, in a country with a fantastic GDP projection, it is not good enough, far from enough, this minimum wage increase.
Before that, fisherfolk got relief, farmers did, sugar workers received (twice), and now low wage toilers are in for a boost. A group is missing, nowhere in the mix. If I may ask, what happened to public servants? What about them, Dr. Irfaan ‘Dubai’ Ali? The ‘bun sugah’ workers benefited twice from the kind consideration of the PPP’s VP, Dr. Gas to shore. But somehow, the world of Guyana’s public servants is darkened and brutalized some more by black and blue marks inflicted by a callous PPP Government and its vengeful leaders. I put on the table this little nugget: sugar workers in a failed and draining industry have been twice helped handsomely, but public servants who do many dirty and undesired jobs in this country (nursing, teaching, counseling, controlling, defending) are left dangling on a string. I hate to use the word, but I sense some degree of payback for the Coalition’s closure of sugar estates. Interestingly, the PPP Government is doing the same thing (differently) but with same objective (result), and not a squawk is heard from any corner. But there is so much more to this issue of a pay raise for public servants, which I now focus on, and urge fellow citizens to think about carefully and sensibly.
Think about this. If the government makes a move and finally decides to increase the pay of our struggling public servants to a respectable level, there is a chain reaction that becomes necessary. I caution it is necessary, all things reasonably considered, but not definite, as in mandatory. The first is that the private sector would be pushed to follow suit, and keep in line (at least) with whatever new pay levels are in effect in the public service. It would not come across well for the private sector to lag behind the public sector, should such deficits exist. Now there is a problem, and it is a significant one that is worth the most serious consideration.
The local private sector would have an increased wage bill, which (pay attention, please) becomes the guideline, flooring, for foreign companies coming here to invest in Guyana’s rich economic prospects. The foreign investors cannot be so shameless, so exploitative, as to be paying Guyanese workers less than our own private sector. Where the is attraction in such a state of affairs in the wage environment?
In a loaded nutshell, that is part two (part one is our own private sector costs, as outlined) of the second problem swirling around an increase in pay for Guyanese public servants. The end result is that the foreigners would be compelled to deal with an increased wage bill, as compared to what prevails currently. As many should know, wages are a recurring expense, and labor costs normally consume the biggest slice of a company’s expenses.
Obviously, the foreigners would not react too kindly to such a development. And this is one of the crucial reasons why I think that the PPP Government has dragged its feet in doing what is right by our workers in this country’s huge public sector. I wait to appreciate for how long more, the feeble leaders in this Government will continue to kowtow before the interests of outsiders and cater to them, while our own people are hurting.
There is still another area where I wish to take this today. It is sure to bring brimstone down from the usual sources. This is up for grabs, but with a year or two more of this intense political pressure on a targeted segment of the population, I foresee the repeat of a situation that occurred when the PPP was in the Opposition.
The US Consulate could (may) relax its discretionary visa requirements, and quietly introduce an easier temporary visa application approval process. The people flocking to take advantage of that open door would be Black Guyanese, just like their Indian counterparts did for decades, beginning in the 1960s. Nurses and teachers would lead the rush. A few years of such a sustained exodus would ease social and political pressures, diminish razor-thin electoral margins, and create a permanent racial class reigning supreme in Oil Guyana. It would be the real ‘One Guyana’ envisioned, but never said. This is the PPP’s endgame, with this matter of a refusal to give public servants a meaningful raise. Think about it, weighing all the pieces.