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Many strange things have happened since the last week ended and this one began. The first strange thing was the government opting to withdraw all the money from the Natural Resource Fund. This fund was created to save money from oil to cushion the impact when the oil runs out. Up until oil, Guyana relied on its exports and on loans.
There were times when the exports did so well that this country even moved to build a hydro project. Venezuela did block that hydro project that actually began in 1973. Heaven knows where this country would have been had that project come on stream. Guyana found oil a few short years ago and a lot of money came this way. To avoid inflation and what is known as the Dutch Disease, the Natural Resource Fund was set up.
Countries like Norway and Denmark are so rich as a result of their Sovereign Wealth Fund that they actually have money in the fund to pay Guyana for carbon credits. They fund their people. No one pays to go to university; young families are given a start in life and the list goes on.
But Guyana has a government that from all appearances, does not like to see money. The people in the government seem to go mad.
Not only are they not satisfied with the money that has come Guyana’s way, these people have actually gone on a borrowing spree. They have borrowed so much that Guyana owes more than it ever did when it was a poor country. This country has seen a budget larger than anyone could have imagined. Then the government decided that it was going to grab the money from the Natural Resource Fund.
Some of us just learnt that the government is borrowing money that our descendants yet unborn would be paying back. At present every Guyanese, man woman and child, owes more than one million dollars and this sum is growing. Yet for all this, the teachers and public servants cannot get a decent wage. The teachers have decided to strike. Not only has the government dubbed the strike as illegal, it has decided to make a bold move to cut off money from the Guyana Teachers Union (GTU). It will stop deducting dues from the teachers and paying it to the GTU.
It did the same thing to the Guyana Public Service Union and actually got the executive to become poodles. Since that action more than 20 years ago, the GPSU has never called a strike. The public servants are being treated very badly but there has been no protest.
The Education Minister is even threatening to cut the pay for the teachers. Some who have been in the system for five years or more now say that this is a far cry from the days of 2018 when the very union struck against the Granger administration. Priya Manickchand was in that picket line. She was critical of the Granger government’s treatment of teachers back then. In her book it was perfectly right to strike. The teachers, after the strike ended, did not suffer any punitive action. They were not told that the strike was illegal.
Of interest, Coretta McDonald who is also involved in this strike, was involved in the one back then. She was not accused of politicising the teachers’ union. Today, this woman is being vilified for daring to call a strike against the PPP government. When the Ministers refer to her, they see her as an opposition Member of Parliament. The head of Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union—GAWU—is also a Member of Parliament on the government benches.
Whenever he calls a strike no one has ever heard him being described as a government Member of Parliament. The GTU is not the only union to take strike action against the government of the day.
The very Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union—GAWU—has struck on at least two occasions since 2020. And whenever GAWU took strike action the government was quick to meet with the union. If there was a pay issue it was quickly resolved. This has not been the case with the GTU. And there is so much more at stake. The sugar union is not presiding over a large output. In fact, sugar production is at its lowest since record-keeping began.
Teachers on the other hand produce the future leaders in the persons of doctors, engineers, specialists and the list goes on. Yet they are not paid the attention that they should. Surprisingly, they are the lowest paid teachers in the region. Some say that their strike is justified. The fact that 80 per cent of the schools in Guyana are affected tells the story. At the same time, the major examinations are around the corner.
Those children attending public schools are the ones who would be affected. They are the children who already seem to be dealt a bad hand in life. Their parents are already hard pressed to feed them. There is the struggle to get most of these children to be meaningful citizens.
Of the 13,000 who write what is referred to Common Entrance every year, a mere 2,000 make it to secondary schools and would probably get a break in life. This is the fight teachers have every year. They want to increase the numbers, then go home to battle with their children.
They are now out of the classroom and vow to stay out for at least two weeks. It would be interesting to see if the government would budge. It does in the case of GuySuCo.