Support Village Voice News With a Donation of Your Choice.
By GHK Lall
The news coming out of Guyana with increasing regularity is how well this country is doing. As it stands now, this country is among, if not, the fastest growing economies globally, and with similar Gross Domestic Product numbers that are continually being revised upwards. It is a case of good, then better, and finalizing at the best of the best. Our national economic figures are glittering, and the people with money to invest are flocking to our shores. This says that we, the Guyanese people, must be sitting pretty nicely on top of the world.
But are we, really? Are Guyanese living those glowing numbers in their daily lives? Somebody must be in cashing in on the local bonanzas, so who are they, and from which sections of this society do they belong? To say this differently, are all citizens of this country benefiting? Or is the reality more a story of who is on the inside of all the lavish sharing, and who is dumped to the outside, locked out, and left to stew on their plight in this time of statistical plenty?
These are some of the questions, and the burning issues embedded in them, that I seek to provide simple answers to, through what is put on the table today. I warn upfront that this is not about economic theory, but of reality. It is not about the textbook contexts of purchasing power, demand and supply, inflation, unemployment, overheating economy, and the like. It is about how Guyanese citizens outside of political inner circles, beyond the connected private sector, and dismissed as unworthy of leadership priority are forced to scrape the bottom of the barrel to eke out some form of miserly existence. In the briefest sentence, this has to do with the index of the human condition. I remind everyone to bear in mind always that this Guyana of ours is at the top of the global heap whenever its economic numbers are mentioned, whenever amounts of money spent here, or being made here, are part of the discussion.
The cost of living now equates to the cost of starving for many Guyanese. This same cost of living mirrors the cost of suffering, and contributes to a state akin to the cost of dying for too many in Guyana. We are the fastest and strongest and healthiest on paper, but many of our people are grappling with living sluggishly, weakly, and painfully from day to day. Against this backdrop, the PPP Government boasts about how many billions go into national development (infrastructure). Leaving the opportunity for massive ongoing corruptions aside, it would have inspired to see the same emphasis on human development, progressing side by side with infrastructural development. As I read this, such a vision and emphasis would mean less millions available to steal. So, the poor, the outcasts, and the bottom-feeders are on their own, must find ways to cope somehow in this the fastest and best in just about everything that relates to economic prosperity.
A living wage would help, and as defined sensibly, solidly, and meaningfully. The poor and struggling (minimum wagers) would be able to deal with the basics of living in a dignified manner. This is reasonable, given that we are the biggest and brightest in the world. Yet, there is stubborn balking at paying public servants a decent wage. Livable again, and what amounts to nothing less than a human rights problem, according to one commentator, all elements considered. Since public servants are viewed by the PPP Government as being of the enemy PNC camp, then they don’t have any claim to human rights, which is what is now evident from leaders’ obstinate refusal to ease their fate. A living wage, a material increase in pay, would make a difference.
Naturally, this sets the bar for the private sector. Plus, it is the floor, which foreigners coming to capitalize here would have to start from, pinching their pockets and profits. Both local private sector and foreign operators still make out handsomely, but public servants and the lowest paid in this country are provided with the means to see their way from week to week. Yes, there is the fear of fueling inflationary pressures; but many Guyanese live with the daily gnawing reality of fear for the next meal, fear over the next rent bill, and fear about the next utility bill, medicine bill, and lessons bill.
As if to furnish confirmation, a media report noted that “39% of Guyanese intensely deprived of basic needs -UN 2022 Report” (KN September 10). I hope that no PPP Minister or loyalist tries to twist that into the falsehood of a 2020 report, hence making it into a PNC failure. Disagreement and dismissal may occur over the plight of public servants being transformed into a human rights issue, but I doubt whether the same could be made of a United Nations report, which covers close to the same territory. We are talking of basic needs and 2 out of 5 Guyanese are laboring to do right by their families. And never let us forget that this is in the fastest growing economy in the world, with the biggest GDP in sight. The last number flashed before the eyes of Guyanese eyes was 56%. GDP around the mid-single-digit range is considered healthy and encouraging. Here we are bandying about 10 times a GDP number thought to be strong, and 40% of our fellow citizens are on their knees.
I find myself thinking of who have been helped, and who have been hurt by the knife twisted repeatedly into wounded expectations. I must be sharp, even at the risk of sharing the scorching. Farmers have been helped (largely Indians); Fisherfolks have been given a strong hand (mainly Indians); and sugar workers have been massively and steadily cushioned and carried (primarily Indians). I am glad for these brothers of mine in their hour of need. I would be just as glad to see the same compassionate hearts and helping hands extended to our public servants. They are mainly African Guyanese brothers and sisters, and they also count as humans. They are in pain, they exist with distress, and they are being victimized, pulverized, and marginalized in their time of grievousness and anguish.
I close with this commonsense thought. It could be that a significant segment of that 39% of Guyanese living without being able to meet basic needs are largely of African Guyanese extraction. We have a runaway economy with soaring numbers, but we have a rundown set of people being deliberately run into the ground.