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Most Guyanese got through 2022 by sheer grit and determination given the challenges faced due to significant erosion of their purchasing power, keeping a roof over one’s head, having three square meals on the table, the lights and water on, paying transportation expenses, and other things associated with basic comforts of living, as the gap between the haves and have nots grew wider. For the 49 per cent living in poverty 2022 was a more difficult year.
We entered this New Year in optimism, characteristic of the Guyanese spirit, and hold the expectation this year will be better than last year and the Government will cast aside the partisan ‘one Guyana’ and create an All Guyana where no Guyanese should feel left behind, deprived or in want. These are not unreasonable expectations because as citizens of Guyana all are equal and all are entitled to participate and benefit from the oil and gas economy.
President Irfaan Ali in his New Year’s message has forgotten most of Guyana. His message, long on talk and short on substance, serves only as a reminder that the Government is not interested in the welfare of all Guyanese and hopes to continue to fool the masses to think otherwise.
The President’s boast that Guyana is the world’s fifth fastest growing economy ignores that whilst the economy is growing at an extraordinary rate 49 per cent of the people are living in poverty, 48 per cent of the population is existing on less than $1200 per day, the earning of workers in the public and private sectors can barely make ends meet, the unemployed youth are being made to feel Guyana has forgotten them, and pensioners are expected to survive on $28,000 per month. These groups, which represent the majority of Guyana, get no direct benefit living in the fifth fastest growing economy, only the ‘one Guyana’ is benefiting from this growth.
Steep increases in prices have not been accompanied by matching or even reasonable increases in wages and salaries for Guyanese workers. Notwithstanding, the earnest pleadings of the trade unions to the government to negotiate decent and living wages for workers, the government has shown a preference for the use of force and disregard for law rather than negotiations and dialogue.
Whilst people are finding it very difficult to buy food, the government continues to award contracts to the tune of billions to their ‘one Guyana.’ In fact, there now appears to be a contractor oligarchy in full control of the infrastructure and the construction sectors of our country. This group of businessmen are among the largest private owners in the country; have enormous influence on the levers of political power to promote its own interests; and control multiple businesses, coordinating its business activities for optimum profits.
Some individuals have become contractors not because they possess the requisite competencies and/or skills; their connections and influence in the corridors of power have facilitated their awards of contracts. Outside of that group, the government has provided a few crumbs of comfort to other, small contractors and businessmen, whose only desire is to work, earn and to be treated fair in the process.
One must ask the question: what has prevented the PPP/C from being fair and equitable, over the last two years? The answer is simple. The government does not care about the masses.
In the growing economy children are lagging behind their Latin American and Caribbean counterparts in education, and the health care system continues to fail the citizens. Boasting of equipping the hospitals and not treating healthcare workers well will not improve healthcare delivery; building schools and not treating the teachers well and ensuring parents could afford to send their children to school will not result in improved quality of education. A school feeding programme in this wealthy economy is insufficient for children’s developmental needs. Children need at least three nutritional meals a day and only their parents can provide these but when parents are poorly paid or not earning their ability to provide is hindered.
The promise to expand agriculture but with no plan to do this in a sustainable manner benefits only the ‘one Guyana,’ not the small farmers who have to brave the elements and man-made disasters (the result of poor drainage, irrigation and soil management) that will affect crops and livestock and further hinder efforts at personal development.
The government continues to deny the right to free university education when the economy can afford it; they continue to ignore their campaign promises and the citizens’ demands to renegotiate the oil and gas contracts; they continue to award contracts in a discriminatory manner; and they continue to deprive many Guyanese the benefit of Guyana’s resources. President Ali’s 2023 message is directed at the ‘one Guyana’ who is promised ‘the best is yet to come.’ His message was not meant for the masses.
It is customary to wish a Happy and Prosperous New Year to fellow Guyanese, and even as I do this, in all sincerity, I am very clear-eyed the future lies in our hands and it is our responsibility to make it happy and prosperous. This requires acceptance that All Guyana, not ‘one Guyana’ must be allowed to participate in and benefit from our oil and gas, and non-oil and gas resources.