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Guyana was long regarded as a poor country. In one case it was said to be the second poorest country in the western hemisphere. Some went as far as to contend that Guyana was poorer than Haiti. These were the critics of the PNC government.
That seems to be changing. In 2015 Guyana was on the brink of being an oil producing nation. Exxon Mobil had found oil. The rest of the region sat up and took notice. Those that treated Guyanese badly at their airports suddenly began to look at Guyanese as nice people to have around.
Monies started to pour in from the sale of oil in 2018. People expected Guyana to be rich. A Sovereign Wealth Fund was set up to help the country escape the Dutch Disease. That is the disease that sees the country living exclusively on its oil resources.
Of course when the oil money runs out the dependence continues to the point where the country is worse off than it was before the oil discovery.
In Guyana, there is a government that loves to spend. On every possible occasion the government seeks to share money to whomever it feels is crucial to its political support. Of course, this is done under the guise of One Guyana.
As fate would have it, the main beneficiaries of the government largess are those who are its supporters. Just this week, the government represented by Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo began to disburse $150,000 to fishermen.
If there was a register of fishermen, one would have lauded the programme. Instead, it is a case of the government giving money to anyone who claims to be a fisherman. Things reached the stage where Jagdeo laid blame for any discrepancy on the recipients.
The contention was that if non-fishermen stepped forward to collect the money then the bona fide fishermen permitted this.
Indeed, this was the case with the flood relief. People who lived overseas and were in no way affected, travelled to Guyana, registered crop losses, collected millions of dollars and returned to their bases overseas.
This would have been less disturbing if the money was being shared in a manner that guaranteed the least fortunate a share of the oil wealth. Public servants are the worst of the affected. They are the teachers, nurses, policemen, doctors, the office workers and others in that category.
Despite the billions of dollars flowing into the coffers, these people have not been given anything extra on their salary. At the same time, they have to face the rising prices in the market place.
Those who sought loans to construct their homes having been provided with an estimate, suddenly found that they simply could not afford the venture.
Those are the cases that are evident. What is not evident is the extent of hunger suffered by the children of these people. Not so long the World Bank reported that some 30 per cent of the population have foregone one meal a day.
In short, in order to survive, they have decided that they would use one meal less each day. And these are people who can still afford to buy some food. Think about the size of the household. Think about four children being asked to go without a meal each day.
These are the children touted to be the future leaders. Which hungry child will be able to concentrate on school work? Perhaps this is a plan to have the children of the rich perpetuate the discrepancy in life.
At the start of the school year, the Education Minister made a big song and dance about providing a meal to children in school. What she did not say was that these were primary school children, all of them under ten years old. And it does not extend to every primary school child.
There is no such programme for secondary school children. A teacher at one of the schools in South Georgetown told me a story that almost brought tears to my eyes. And I am a big man. Big men don’t cry.
This teacher said that about thirty per cent of the school population go to school hungry. To put this into perspective—the school has just over 600 children. A simple case of Maths would reveal that about 200 children go to school hungry.
If that is the case, then at noon there is no lunch either. The government boasts of development. Under these conditions it is developing bandits and prostitutes. The young men would have to go to the streets to look for it—whatever the it is. And everybody is complaining about the age of the young criminals.
The police and the wider society are quick to talk about shooting them out of hand. The society does not consider that the government is responsible for the state of affairs.
No one understands why a schoolgirl skips school and finds herself in compromising positions. No one understands why there are girls who do not finish school having become pregnant. The fact is that they want money for food
In the United States the government has put money into a school programme that sees every school child get a meal, and a proper meal once that child is at school.
In Guyana there is no such consideration. How can the government explain that it is giving billions of dollars to cane cutters, fishermen, farmers and contractors who are being asked to construct roads and the like?
It would probably take less than those sums to help prevent children from going hungry and giving them a chance to develop their potential. It would reduce crime.
Don’t boast about the uniform grant; don’t boast about ‘We Care’ because we surely do not. If we did we would have had a school welfare programme. And prior to 1992 there was such a programme. We would have been putting money into feeding the hungry.
Meanwhile, some of us are trying to see how we can help to alleviate the situation at this South Georgetown school. I am involved because I knew what hunger was.