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Last Thursday persons picketed the Ministry of Finance, the official residences of Prime Minister Mark Phillips and President Irfaan Ali. The picketing exercise aimed at drawing the government’s attention to the high cost of living, high poverty, low wages/salary to public sector workers, among other issues.
The activity billed as a ‘Protest Against Starvation’ was spearheaded by Kidackie Amsterdam, who is also host of the online ‘Buxton Morning Time’ show. Amsterdam held captive attention with his chants of “Fix de ting” referring to the high cost of living, number of people living in poverty, and paying public servants livable wages.
“Ashni, fix the Budget,” “Livable wages, Ashni,” “ Stop economic genocide,” “Stop Punishing Poor People,” “Poor people livin on one meal a day, it can’t wuk” were some of the chants directed to Minister Ashni Singh, who has responsibility for Finance, by Amsterdam utilising the ‘call and response’ technique.
Chants for better pay for public sector workers and implementation of governmental measures to alleviate the economic hardship, arising from the high cost of living and rising poverty, were accompanied by the use of improvised musical instruments.
The World Bank, in its October Fact Sheet, said around 48 per cent of the population live in poverty, 49 per cent live on less than US$ 5.5 per day, and about half of households is experiencing lower total household income compared to the period before the pandemic
According to the Bank, in 2020, 71.6 per cent of Guyanese households experienced income loss compared to January 2020 levels, and those most severely impacted are typically found in low-income households.
The Bank also stated there have been negative impacts of the pandemic on household income, food insecurity and children’s education which persisted in 2021, and despite substantial expansion of total Gross Domestic Product (GDP), caused by the start of oil production, poverty has increased.
Demonstrators marched around the areas bearing placards with messages that read “Stop economic apartheid,” “Pay public servants livable wages” “Fair Pay for All,” “Stop Economic discrimination,” “Direct Cash Transfer,” etc.
Professor Clive Thomas, of the WPA, in 2018 proposed A US$5000.00 direct cash transfer to households from the oil and gas revenue. According to Thomas, this money will allow Guyanese to spend accordingly to improve their standard of living.
Protesters walked in the avenues in front of the Ministry of Finance and stood in front of the official residences of the President and Prime Minister making known their grievances. Workers at the ministry could be seen looking on at the protest.
Present in the protest were Working People’s Alliance (WPA) executive members Tacuma Ogunseye and Amsterdam, trade unionist Lincoln Lewis, social activist Lelon Saul, among others.
Members of the Guyana Police Force were present.
Last Thursday evening, after the protest in front of President Ali’s residence, he announced on television an eight per cent (8 %) increase across-the- board for public sector workers retroactive to January 1.
The president’s announcement continues to be met with widespread condemnations.
Condemnations are directed to the amount which is considered “miserly” and coming at the end of the year to allow for consumer spending to facilitate businesses, perceived to friendly to the government; disregard for the right to collective bargaining for those workers, such as teachers and traditional public services, who are represented by the Guyana Teachers Union and Guyana Public Service Union would be entitled to.
Last Tuesday, a similar protest was held in front of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) for a clean Voters List.
According to Amsterdam, these protests will be held twice weekly, i.e. on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Watch Thursday’s protest here-