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Last week I received two texts outlining the various benefits that the citizens of two oil rich Arab countries receive, with the implicit suggestion that Guyanese should be demanding similar rights. Though not unaffordable, I responded that given the nature of the political elite and the political process in Guyana, such benefits are most unlikely to be made available to Guyanese. In almost every respect, politicians in Guyana believe that they know their citizens and what is good for them best. As we are at present witnessing, at another level politicians, particularly those in the PPP, have placed their political survival above the welfare of their citizens living and working in Guyana. Notwithstanding the talk about ‘one Guyana’ the PPP is set upon the kind of ethnic/political dominance that can have no truck with notions of equality that will remove the level of relative poverty necessary to force the other ethnicities, but particularly Africans, into its camp.
Firstly, in 2016, the Guyana government committed to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals that required it to ‘Implement nationally appropriate social protection systems and measures for all, including floors, and by 2030 achieve substantial coverage of the poor and the vulnerable.’ Floors are ‘a basic set of essential social rights and transfers in cash and kind to provide a minimum income and livelihood security for all (Universal Basic Income – UBI for example) and to facilitate effective demand for and access to essential goods and services.’
Many others and I have suggested a Universal Basic Income (UBI) for Guyana as the burden of evidence suggests that these kinds of conditional and unconditional cash transfer programs do not encourage laziness, partying, binge drinking and other antisocial behaviour. The Arab countries are concrete examples that properly contextualized and planned, unusual levels of laziness and social deviation are not the norm.
Kuwait has a population of 4.4 million, of which only about 1.4 millions are citizens. It has oil reserves of 104 billion barrels, making it 6th in the world, with a per capita GDP of USD38,755 in 2022. Its projected inflation and unemployment rates in 2022 are 4.32% and 3.4% respectively. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has a population of 10 million of which only about 1.3 millions are citizen. As in Kuwait, the others are expatriates. With a reserve of 97.8 billion barrels, it is ranked 8th in the world with a per capita GDP of USD67,100 and projected unemployment and inflation rates of about 3.5% and 3.4% respectively in 2022. Guyana resident citizenship is calculated to be about 790,000, ranked 17th with oil reserves of 11 billion barrels, GDP per capita of USD18,700, projected inflation and unemployment rates of 9.4% and 12.5% respectively for 2022.
Both Arab countries have similar generous social welfare benefits. For example, in 2020 when a Kuwaiti got married he got almost USD20,000, only half of which had to be paid back on easy terms. Citizens get a monthly food supply that includes 50 kilos of rice, 50 kilos of sugar, oil, tomato sauce, milk, chicken and baby milk if required. Having a child gets you an extra USD165 per month per child until that child gets a job at whatever age. Students are given a monthly allowance that converts to more than the monthly salary of a teacher in those countries. The government helps citizens find work and if it cannot find a citizen a job s/he gets about USD650 per month until s/he is employed.
In the UAE, the Marriage Fund gives generous grants to cover the cost of weddings and there is child allowance. The cost of both electricity and water consumption are heavily subsidised and of negligible amounts. Citizens get preferential treatment for public sector and some private sector jobs and generally are paid higher than expatriates. Any foreigner who wants to start a business needs to have a UAE citizen as at least a 51% partner even if the latter makes no financial input. As a result, some Emiratis charge a sponsorship fee for simply lending their name to a business (https://www.quora.com/What-are-the-perks-of-being-a-UAE-citizen).
Indeed, partly because they go directly to the poor UBI type arrangements are considered better than normally wasteful government poverty alleviation programmes. Yet the presumed negative impact these will have on the population is precisely the kind of self-indulgent arguments one gets from political elites as the country’s UN commitment remains unfulfilled and many people live in poverty!
Secondly, as we are at present experiencing, there is a more substantial problem. These Arab countries are able to provide this level of benefit because the focus is on their resident citizens who are comparatively small in number. They have various levels of citizenship and the citizenship rules are usually very restrictive. By the present Kuwaiti 1959 nationality law, if your father is a Kuwaiti you will get citizenship, otherwise one could apply for citizenship if one is legal resident for 20+ years (non-Arab), or 15+ years (Arab), you have made a significant contribution to Kuwait, your family was in Kuwait before 1965, you have been married to a Kuwaiti man for 15+ years, your mother is Kuwaiti and your father is either a POW, deceased, or divorced. You must also satisfy all three of the following conditions: know Arabic, have legal work and not committed a crime, be a Muslim, or convert to Islam for 5 years. When you get citizenship your nationality papers tell what level of citizenship you have, dual citizenship is not tolerated and only citizens could vote and only those at the top level citizenship can be in parliament (https://www.ilo.org/dyn/natlex/docs/ELECTRONIC/83364 /91990/F734821664/ KWT83364.pdf).
In Guyana politicians, particularly those in the PPP are placing their domineering intentions and political survival above the welfare of their citizens living and working in the country. Citizenship is relatively easy to acquire and in order to facilitate manipulations on elections day, the PPP’s priority is to see that every Guyanese, living or dead, stays on the electoral list. Politicians have even set their sights upon exploiting foreigners – Venezuelans, Brazilians, Haitians, Indians, etc. – towards this end!
Hoping to cover its domineering intentions, at least in the minds of the uninformed, the PPP is haranguing Guyanese about what the constitution, law and courts have determined as if the people are the slaves rather that the makers of these institutions. Switzerland is one of the best countries in the world in which to live and last week I suggested that arguably it is the most democratic. This is partly so because it regularly upgrades its constitution and laws to suit the needs of its citizens, doing so ten times between 2002 and 2014.
What this mouthing of the PPP suggests is that it has no intention to co-operate in improving the levels of inclusiveness, equitability and self-government that are central features of a modern democratic state, and thus nothing less than a significant political battle will change the highly autocratic manner in which Guyana is governed.