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Behind the glitter, there is this litter and it is the long, thick trail of Guyana. It is a tale of the two faces of Guyana, which when people like me point to, cursing comes. The first face is of the glitter about “fastest growing economy”, and among ‘biggest Gross Domestic Product (GDP)’ anywhere. The numbers don’t lie, and they awe and enthrall and stupefy. On the other hand, the second face is the one captured in the ugliness of the underbelly of a high-voltage economy and the gigantic GDP of Guyana, as captioned by SN on November 2nd, ‘World Bank says poverty in Guyana among highest in Latin America, Caribbean…’
I have every likeness for our GDP and economic numbers. I hate with a passion, though, how those numbers don’t mean anything to ordinary Guyanese. By any standards, one in two citizens straddling any poverty line (48%) is an embarrassment, a conveyance of much hardship, hopelessness, anguish, fear. But who wants to hear that kind of message, when messengers are so few and make for easy targets.
Is there anybody, still hearing ‘naysayer, scaremonger, and doomsayer? If anyone takes that tack, then the first that should be in the bullseye must be the World Bank. It has facts, with figures to match. So many Guyanese hurting badly, and with the most vulnerable, the most misused and exploited, and taken for a ride being those in indigenous communities. Some sort of scheming bullies and political mongrels we are, be they named PPP or PNC or AFC.
Editor, what does GY$1100 a day help make possible? The round-trip minibus fare gobbles up $200, a pound of meat (pick the cheapest) and half of what is left is gone. If anyone is thinking protein, then they better not go in the direction of healthcare, which the World Bank spoke of in less than stellar terms. Incidentally, with the $400 remaining, one has to get some ‘fillers’ or bulk, which means rice or flour, and that is for the stomach. To get something in the stomach, there is a bottle of cooking gas, which is $5000 or thereabouts from some time ago. It is five days of what the World Bank says that one out of two Guyanese are living with, must make do. To cut a fine point here, the World Bank reported “below” US$5.5. I tremble to think what that stark and ominous word “below” could mean for some in that 48%.
Is it GY$800 a day, or GY$500, or none at all? No amount of leadership glossy pontificating is going to rid Guyana of this harrowing, damning, and numbing reality. And no battalion of silky propagandists paid well to write from air-conditioned offices about how good Guyanese have it, and like never before, can wish the horror of below US$5.5 a day.
Perhaps, Leaders and Propagandists in the PPP Government may pause and recognize the significance of what 2 of 5 of our educated people disappearing to Richmond Hill, East New York, Atlanta, and parts unknown.
The bigger point is that when 2 of 5 Guyanese with some semblance of learning leave this land, then there is cringing at what is left here to carry on in this age of oil. What quality? What sagacity? What integrity? Another downside of that is all the white-collar unemployment despite this drain of the supposedly brainy. Today, I will not stir any nests with which demographic is increasingly in the unemployment ranks, education and experience notwithstanding.
Revisiting that US$5.5 a day figure from the World Bank, the thought comes that one of two Guyanese is now a Pensioner, considering the GY$28,000 a month insult to the elderly, since that is what $1100 a day means for 48% of Guyanese. As we know, the demographics say that old age pensioners are nowhere near half of Guyana’s population. But, the punishing reality is that half of Guyana could be in a Pensioner’s $28,000 monthly boat. It is some thought, isn’t it? I hope that there is neither smart-alecky nor slippery response from agents of the PPP Government. These things can’t be wished away nor swept under the carpet, if there is a carpet.
I am watching what the money man in the PPP Government, Dr. Ashni Singh, comes up with for a national budget, especially now that he is armed with what is dear to his loving, caring heart (the non-cash part), and cash register mind. Forty thousand is a major move, but pensioners would still starve. Minimum wage can’t be $60,000 and taxes so steep. Everybody is over the resistance mark of $100,000.
Child exemptions, ‘free pay’ allowances, and VAT should all be part of the 2023 budget package. Infrastructure billions for private sector friends to get more gravy is understood. But the imbalance between what is earmarked for public works (conspicuous consumption) versus that of making our people exist at some less humiliating (starvation consumption) level must be much narrower, and would be lauded. I remind President Ali and the Public Works Bishop that people can’t eat roads and bridges.
To sum up, 48% of Guyanese below US$5.5 is national shame, a national abomination, in an oil rich country, and where each Guyanese (per head) owns more oil that the Crown Prince of Arabia. I think I have said enough. My hope is that the message, my cry, registers.