One of the signal failures of the PPP administration has been the neglect of rural Guyana. True. Roads, schools, bridges and other infrastructure have been much improved in these areas. However, what has been lacking was a development plan to redress the urban-rural imbalance.
This imbalance is directly related to the incidence of poverty. Numerous studies have comprehensively established that poverty is much higher, in fact disproportionately greater, in rural areas.
Ironically, the very governments that are aware of this imbalance and which have committed themselves to the reduction of poverty have embraced structural adjust programmes that actually benefit the upper and middle classes.
These programmes revolve around trade liberalization and the removal of subsidies to the poor thus causing further hardships. The rural communities which find their traditional industries threatened by neo-liberal policies are in turn compensated with some farm of market roads, a few bridges here and there, improvement of schools and health clinics.
These things merely ameliorate the poverty within these areas and never create increased opportunities for rural Guyana.
Historically in Guyana, the opportunities for employment and improved education have been in the urban centres.
A visit, for example, to the Essequibo Coast and to the Corentyne would highlight the hopelessness when it comes to jobs for the young people of that area.
While all of these areas can boast about improved roads, water, health facilities, housing and sea defences, there is paucity of new economic opportunities which would create jobs.
Job creation and job security are crucially important if poverty is going to be reduced in rural areas. For years, the young people of rural Guyana have had to come to the city to find the opportunities which they did not have in the countryside.
If you did not have an uncle or aunt with whom you could stay while pursuing further studies or while trying to find a stable job, you were consigned to stay in the countryside where you would mainly find occasional and un-remunerative labour.
If you do a sample of any government department or private business in the urban areas, you will be staggered as to just how many of the workers actually were born in the countryside and were forced because of the lack of opportunities to make their livings in the urban areas.
It is sad to see the waste of talent that takes place in rural Guyana. This is none the more striking that in the case of young girls and women, many of whom had they had the chance would have done extremely well for themselves.
However, having to grow up in poor rural households binds them to a cycle of poverty. I have seen girls who went to secondary schools and could have done well if they had the opportunities being confined to spend their days as housewives, when they desperately wanted to be much more.
It is even sadder to see boys that I knew who have now lived out their productive life and have little to show for it simply because the opportunities were not there.
Cheddi Jagan understood this need to boost rural development if poverty was going to be reduced. He did not live long enough to see the necessary reforms instituted to bridge the rural-urban divide.
I believe had he lived, having finished the initial task of reconstruction and of stabilizing the economy and preparing the foundations for the sustained growth of the productive sectors, that Cheddi would have addressed himself to the task of reducing the gap between rich and poor; between the towns and rural areas.
Today, Guyana can boast a better standard of living than what we had sixteen years ago. But it is also painfully true that the neglect of rural Guyana has continued unabated during this period and the countryside is today devoid of substantial economic opportunities for the young people.
Unless there is a deliberate policy to redress this imbalance, unless measures are taken to provide greater opportunities for jobs and then to ensure the security of jobs in rural and hinterland Guyana, then poverty reduction will simply be another hollow slogan.
To right this wrong what is needed is economic vision. Sadly this is seriously lacking in the ruling circles at the moment, the direct result of leaving the process of economic planning to foreign consultants and the funding agencies that pay them.
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