THE PRESIDENT OF SMALL THINGS
When the PPP returned to power in 1992, there was an immediate reduction in the prices of a number of consumer items. This happened because the then president was a man who was concerned about the small man and while the problems that he faced were formidable and required him addressing the bigger problems of the economy, he never neglected the little things.
Almost immediately upon his assuming office, there was a reduction in the price of flour and rice. Other prices also came down. Cheddi Jagan then removed the means test for old age pensions. Prior to this in order to qualify for an old age pension, you had to establish a need, and many persons who were indeed needy found themselves excluded by the administrative requirements. Cheddi Jagan decided that everyone aged 65 should qualify for a pension, whether they wanted it or not.
He was the one who also started the housing drive for low income families, and in support of this, he also implemented a number of measures aimed at keeping construction costs low. So he was a president that tended to the small man.
While he addressed the bigger problems, he never lost focus of the importance of the small things, the things that matter to the small man.
Whoever assumes the presidency after tomorrow’s elections, will have to look at the big projects. Guyana has made the sacrifices over the years and is now ready to think and act big. As such, a number of big projects are lined up, and both the ruling party and APNU have been speaking to these projects. The PPP has been touting a deep water harbour and a road to Brazil amongst other initiatives, while APNU has said that it would create significant employment in East Berbice.
But whoever is elected president, despite the improvements that the working class has enjoyed over the years, should try to also be a president that addresses the everyday things that affect the ordinary citizen.
Christmas is around the corner and despite the anticipated glut in chicken production, there is still likely to be predatory price-setting by those keen on exploiting the increased demand. It would be nice if the new president could work with all stakeholders immediately upon assuming office on a plan that would allow for the prices of chicken and eggs to be at their present level.
Then there is the possibility of reducing the price of local produce even further. Quite a large portion of the cost of food in Guyana is attributable to the hefty markups that are charged by middle men, those who buy from the farmers and then resell to retail vendors.
The new president should introduce some competition here and allow for small farmers to market their produce directly. The large farmers are not interested in this, but prices for consumers can be reduced if small farmers are encouraged through farmers’ markets to sell directly to consumers, thereby cutting out the middlemen who make the bulk of the profits from the same agricultural produce.
The second area is wages. The situation that now faces the incoming president is far different from what faced Cheddi Jagan in 1992, when there was very little money to spread around. Yet the PPP still found a hefty increase to give to workers in its first Budget. Since then, the increases have been linked to inflation rather than to a living wage.
At the minimum, a working class president would want to ensure that within the next ten years Guyana is able to afford to pay its lowest paid worker a living wage. This means that a living wage has to be calculated, and this should be one of the first priorities of any president interested in addressing the ordinary things that matter to the average man.
A third area that should make for immediate improvement is the removal of the destitute off the streets. There have been too many starts and stops in this regard and all those presently sleeping on the streets should be encouraged to move to shelters where they can be provided with a hot meal and a soft mattress to sleep. This would be a good start to help those in need.
But the greatest area where the public would want change is in the harassment by traffic police. The traffic police is the citizen’s worst nightmare and there is a great deal of corruption within the system, simply because the fines are so prohibitive that many motorists prefer to leave something for the cop than to fork out the large fines that are charged.
Technology needs to be the answer to speeding on the roadways. There are radars equipped with cameras that can record the speed of vehicles and this is the way to go, not to leave it to traffic cops. If there is anything that the public would want the new administration to deal with immediately it is the harassment that takes place on our roadways and which really needs to be brought to an end.