By Ralph Seeram
Before opening my column I would like to express my deepest sympathy to the relatives of the late Terry Holder who died this week. Terry was my boss at the old Guyana Broadcasting Service when I was its Berbice Correspondent. Terry was a genuine human being loved by his staff because of the person he was in life. I am sure Terry’s place is assured in heaven.
“Your income is not enough to buy the house,“ the mortgage broker said to me. I pointed out that our combined income can more than pay the monthly payments and still have cash left over to buy necessities. Besides, we are going to rent part of the building.
The broker explained it doesn’t work that way, that they only calculate 32% of your salary to pay your mortgage, and you need the rest to survive. I was getting my first lesson in the American way of life. She explained that the more you earn the more you spend, that’s the American way. Having recently come from Guyana I was still in the Guyanese mode or mentality — “cut and contrive” not earn and spend.
Today, after so many years, I can relate to what the broker said; that’s one of the reasons I visit Guyana often, to get a reality check, and to be honest it’s not what I expect. In fact sometimes it’s not a reality check. When I am in Georgetown, I feel as if I have not left Florida; familiar fast food restaurants, everyone talking on cell phones, stores with the latest fashions and electronic items, not to mention the traffic jams with cars– too many cars.
I thought of this after reading the debate on how much money a mother and one child need to survive in Guyana. I am not sure if that budget in Demerara Waves was made up by the PPP or Demerara Waves, but I can tell you this it had to be made up by a woman. No Guyanese man is going to make up a household budget and leave out his liquor. Yes that budget did not cater for the rum shop, where maybe a third of the income goes. And of note, no man is going to make up a budget and include panty liners, but I will come back to the panty liners issue later.
Poor is a relative word. What is poor for some is rich for the next man. You can earn a million a month or a year and still be poor because your lifestyle makes you spend a million and one dollars. This was evident during the housing melt down in the U S where millionaires were reduced to bankruptcy and lost their fancy homes, not because they lost investments or jobs, but because they did not save. They spent all their disposable incomes on improving their lifestyles.
Which brings me to the Guyanese lifestyle and how poor are they. There are people in Guyana who struggle to literally put “food on the table”. I get that. But it happens in the richest of society. The extent will differ but there are always “poor” people in any society, for different reasons, and that’s the reality.
To be honest I am very confused on how Guyanese live the lifestyle on their income. I am confused on the World Bank Report listing Guyana as the second poorest country in the region. Something isn’t right. Either the Government or the World Bank is “cooking the books” (statistics). Guyanese enjoy a better lifestyle than some of those countries that are supposed to be richer. A prominent Guyanese businessman told me once, “if you want to see poor go to Haiti. Guyanese don’t know what poor is”. My daughter went to Haiti and said that Guyanese are rich compared to Haiti. You want to see poor, go to Jamaica.
You see the proliferation, now, of malls. Stores are well stocked with consumer items (foreign) electronics etc. Who supports those stores; I am sure the merchants will not stock goods if they are not selling. Where is the money coming from in this “poor” country? People are buying more fast food than cooking home ( seems to be a lost art for the young people) buying $200.000 cars in less than two years, filling up stadiums for foreign singers. Where is this money coming from? I am telling you something is not adding up.
That proposed budget which exceeds the average salary, does not include rum shop bill, transportation, internet, oh yes cable and cell phone bill (smart phone thank you). How did they do it?
Weeks before last Christmas, like thousands in the Diaspora I went to Laparkan to ship some boxes to Guyana. Lined up in the bond were a line of flat screens TV’S, washing machines, refrigerators and other electrical appliances, and don’t let me tell you how many barrels. This however is a year round exercise and not only at Xmas.
Like the thousands of Guyanese in the Diaspora also I went to Money Gram to send a “small piece” to relatives and friends, this happens also to be a year round routine. Remittances no doubt play a significant part of maintaining the Guyanese lifestyle. We may never know the true figure, as not all is reported through official channels. I rather suspect it’s driving half the economy.
Then some believe that the white powder that is not cassava powder (thanks for the term Wesley) plays a significant role in the economy. We now come to the other source of income—bribery. I am sure most are familiar with the system of bribery in Guyana to get things done, and almost everyone looks out for some “lunch money” to do their job.
A well known businessman in Georgetown told me recently that he went to renew his gun permit. He had to pass three points and had to give the police at each point a “small piece”. He did not even reach to the area where he had to get it renewed.
The Government is deceiving itself if it thinks Guyanese are doing well because of their handling of the economy. It’s really the UNDERGROUND economy THAT IS DRIVING GUYANA, but I guess the World Bank does not recognize that.
Oh as for that panty liner as a necessity in the Guyanese budget, I was taken aback by that item, so I called a female friend of mine in Guyana to find out if it a necessary item. She said, “Only when I get turned on.” Reminds me of a line in an old calypso that goes “ rain wasn’t falling sun was shining how the panty got wet.”
Ralph Seeram can be reached at email: [email protected]
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