It is hard to understand what the President meant when he said that no evidential basis was presented to him for the payment of cash grants to citizens. What perhaps the President meant was that no case has yet been formally presented to him, demanding that consideration be given to utilizing part of Guyana’s anticipated oil revenues to pay cash grants to citizens.
The President does not have to look far to find evidence of countries that provide their citizens with cash grants. Many oil-producing countries mail sums to their citizens in the form of cash vouchers. Some add in additional benefits such as subsidized food, petrol, housing and energy.
Norway provides cash benefits for children. As does Canada. Saudi Arabia which has been cutting back on certain types of spending, still gives cash-grants to its citizens. Kuwait does the same. Libya did the same under the Gaddafi. In the United Arab Emirates, a number of services are provided to citizens, either at subsidized rates or free.
Therefore, there is no shortage of evidence of oil wealth being used to provide different types of cash-benefits to families. In Brazil, which is not a major oil producer, the Lula government had introduced conditional cash grants for parents who send their children to school. Jagdeo copied this, but gave cash grants to the parents of school children.
The WPA has indicated its willingness to advocate for cash grants to be made to Guyanese when the oil revenues begin to flow. So the President is likely to receive information or a demand to this effect, so that he and his government can make provision for this suggestion. If he so desires.
The WPA now seems to be limiting its suggestion to benefit only the poor and powerless. The WPA’s adjustment injects some practical problems into the cash-grant debate.
First, the government will have to establish when a person can be considered poor and powerless. This in itself presents some problems, because the main means often used for classifying someone as poor is their income. One WPA leader has already pointed out that many poor people do not pay taxes, nor work in the formal economy. How then does one then establish the income of a person who is not working within the formal economy?
Second, we have a lot of persons who do not work and do not want to work. They live on remittances from abroad. Should one reward someone who is not willing to work and who if he or she receives the cash-grant will be more inclined to work?
Guyana does not have a database of the poor and powerless. Establishing such a database will present problems, because of the dishonesty which exists within our society.
We also have a lot of migratory people. They work across the border in Suriname but have homes in Guyana. This is a significant number of persons, many of whom can be considered poor and powerless.
There is going to be national resistance towards the WPA’s proposal of limiting cash grants to the poor and powerless. Oil is a national resource, so the argument goes. It therefore should benefit all and not some. There will be persons who will claim that it is wrong to reward just the poor and penalize those who are rich.
But when all is said and done, Guyanese must not have high expectations because Guyana, it should be recalled, signed one of the worst deals ever. The US$5000 which is being suggested as a cash grant per household is simply not going to be available to pay to every household or even every poor household. And boy oh boy, Guyana does have a lot of poor people. And with oil money to be distributed, even some rich people will want to pretend that they are poor.
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