Some years ago, I saw a cartoon in a newspaper that made me realize how some people in the world operates. A man leaned over his fence and asked his neighbour to loan him a hammer. The neighbour replied that he couldn’t because his mother-in-law was sick.
So there was the man walking away with a question mark over his head. At the same time, the neighbour’s wife asked her husband what her mother had to do with the refusal to loan the hammer.
He man replied, “When you don’t want to do something, one excuse is as good as another.”
That cartoon came readily to mind when two things happened last week. The Special Organised Crime Unit opted to question some former Government Ministers about the acquisition of land on the Sparendaam seashore. The area known as Pradoville Two is now a high-priced residential neighbourhood with mansions galore.
Such is the nature of the community that Junior Finance Minister Jaipaul Sharma contended that these former government officials are now flaunting their wealth in the faces of the Guyanese people.
We have heard about the under-pricing of the state land. These government officials acquired the land at one-third the cost that other Guyanese paid for their plot of undeveloped land in other parts of the country. The Sparendaam seaside land came with roads, lights, water and all the necessary infrastructure.
Former Minister Robeson Benn, in the wake of the questioning by SOCU, told reporters that the idea behind the community grew out of discussions that followed the murder of Minister Satyadeow ‘Sash’ Sawh in his home at La Bonne Intention.
Benn said that the then President Bharrat Jagdeo was concerned for the safety of his Ministers so he set about building a Roman-styled walled community to keep criminals out. This was the first time the nation was getting an excuse for Pradoville Two.
If President Jagdeo was concerned for the safety of his Ministers why wasn’t all of them made to move into the area? Why didn’t the government simply build the compound so that in the case of a change of government the compound would remain Government property in the same way that the Ministries remain Government property?
If security was that crucial, why did some of the Ministers sell their allocations for a more than handsome profit without even attempting to move into this safe compound?
I do not recall any visibly heightened security around the home of the Ministers during this period while the Pradoville Two construction was underway. Neither did I see a reduction in the number of the government officials visiting the numerous drinking spots and cavorting until the wee hours of the morning.
The fact remains that Pradoville Two remains to taunt lesser mortals about how corrupt Government officials live. None of the residents could have owned such property on their regular earnings. Priya Manickchand came from a wealthy family so perhaps she could have owned one with support from her father.
The other issue that reminded me about the cartoon involved the Education Ministry. The Guyana Teachers Union identified three prominent Guyanese to be chairperson of the arbitration panel. The government would have found no fault with any.
In fact, from time to time these people were used by the state and the government at critical times. Former Foreign Affairs Minister Rashleigh Jackson was called on to work with the government team on the Suriname border issue.
Jeffrey Thomas was a former Minister of Education and Dr. Aubrey Armstrong headed an arbitration panel in the wake of the Public Service strike in 1999.
The teachers’ union is now of the view that the Education Ministry is stalling. I am not certain that there were terms of reference for the chairman of the arbitration panel so like me, nobody outside the Education Ministry could know what the Ministry wanted.
Indeed, when the union took strike action, it had no demand based on the reality. It eventually settled for “something reasonable” from the government. This begged the question about what is “something reasonable”.
Both sides quibbled over this “something reasonable” and are not at the point of arbitration.
This issue now has political implications. People are pointing to the manifesto of the Coalition government where there is a clear promise to make life much better for the teachers. A quick look would reveal that there were efforts to honour this aspect of the manifesto.
The government paid increases over and beyond anything the teachers ever got during the period of the past administration. And here I must repeat the actions at the end of the 1999 arbitral award. The Public Servants got a fifty percent increase over two years. Their salaries jumped yet two or three years later they were right back where they started.
Taxes and price increases ate into their earnings because the government simply reached out to take back what it gave. And it did.
I would expect that the teachers would press for non-taxable non-salaried benefits. Go for housing allowances, travelling allowances, clothing allowances, merit increments and such things. In the long run, they add up and the earnings would be significantly boosted.
But for now, there should be no stalling over the appointment of a chairman. The teachers were patient; they want a better pay now.
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