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2022 is now relegated to the annals of history and Guyanese will now greet 2023 with great enthusiasm, hope, and expectations of pronounced efforts by the rulers of the land to fix the many problems that led to complaints of inequality and partiality from many sections of our dear country.
We are now sauntering out of the festive season and smack into another year so, permit me, dear readers, to extend sincere wishes to you all for an enlightening and productive year even as you strive to contribute your respective ‘two-bits’ towards the development of our dear country. We must all aspire to the “one Guyana” mantra perpetuated by President Irfaan Ali in most of his public speeches.
While remaining optimistic about the future, I cannot help but underline the adverse effects of the mode of divisive politics that is currently being practiced by our political rulers that only serve to undermine broad-based progress and put a damper on the celebrations.
It is indeed unfortunate that after more than fifty-six years of independence, we are still struggling to overcome political strife, and acrimony, leading to a woeful state of underdevelopment and poverty. The genesis and nature of this problem obviously stem from an unyielding political culture that favors triumphalism over national unity.
Our political challenges are characterised by race and class issues but are not necessarily isolated from those of other countries around the globe. One thing is for sure; the implementation of two key variables; courage and prudent action coupled with the acknowledgment of the problem and a will to implement reforms to foster peace and development can be construed as a great start to the containment or elimination of the problem.
Political gurus have tabbed the problem as a vestige of our colonial heritage. They are also adamant that the problem cannot be solved by the extant system of governance.
The Guyanese society comprises two major racial groups that have been locked in a zero-sum total game of political dominance that intensely generates post-elections cries of alienation and discrimination. The issue is further exacerbated by the hardened stances of victors of either faction through political socialization and a lack of empathy for their perceived foes or those on the ‘other side’ of the political aisle.
It would be a major political achievement if, at the dawn of this new dispensation, the warring factions commit to the deliverance of a workable system and less confrontational module of governance that is lauded by a high percentage of stakeholders on both sides of the divide. In the interim, the Ali Administration may find it prudent to urgently address the prevailing issue of poverty.
One cannot help but note the observation of officials of the World Bank last November 2022 that Guyana’s national poverty headcount, the share of the population living below US$5.5 a day, is among the highest in the Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) region at around 48%.
Evidently, poverty has a negative impact on our human and social development owing to the inability of citizens to access quality public services and goods. Most notably, the education and healthcare systems are adversely affected. Pointedly, the education system is ill-equipped to produce qualified personnel for the local labor force and the healthcare system is only rated above Haiti in the LAC region.
In an apparent move to cushion the impact of the rising cost of living the government implemented an eight percent retroactive salary increase for public servants in November 2022. This was further complemented by salary adjustments for some categories of disciplined services officers and ranks and healthcare workers.
Additionally, the availability of low-income mortgages and building materials for members of the joint services was also announced. Though the uninitiated may view these initiatives as commendable, the gesture has failed to close the existing chasm. We also noted the unworkable temporary employment programme and inequitable distribution of financial aid across communities.
Like a fishbone stuck in the throat, the nation is tormented by vertical and horizontal income inequality. It was expected that the nascent oil and gas sector would have brought some measures of relief, however, this has not been realized. The trickle-down economic policies of the government have substantially benefited the big corporations, the oligarchs, the nouveau riche, and the cronies of the ruling cabal. Regrettably, like the government, this group is equally guilty of wages and salary suppression and has contributed to the protracted misery of the working class.
Interestedly, His Excellency Irfan Ali in his New Year’s message hinted at policies, programmes, and projects to promote developmental benefits across regions and communities. This announcement was indeed pleasing to the ears and should have caused some amount of euphoria among the masses of the proletariat.
However, past experiences of empty promises uttered merely to assuage the minds of listeners have left many citizens in doubt and they remain adamant that no significant benefits will be accrued by the working class and the general populace. There may be some credibility to this statement, especially noting the lackluster efforts by the relevant authorities to enact the requisite amendments to the conceptualization, and implementation of policies, programmes, and projects.
As a nation, we can ill afford to ignore a need to conscientiously address the issue of equitable distribution of our resources. Therefore, policies to enhance equity must include income redistribution, broadening the scope of opportunities, and the provision of quality public goods and services. Most importantly, effective and efficient policy implementation ought to be free from groups likely to lose out from policies in terms of money, rent, and influence.
These are all practical implementations that can serve to balance the equation of wealth distribution but the bland reality is that it will not fructify unless both government and parliamentary opposition parties abort self-centered attitudes and work assiduously to make it happen. Only then will we as a nation boldly profess to have a happy new year.