There is nothing new about Social Programmes with direct and indirect Cash Transfers, with or without conditionalities. This topic has emerged with the potential estimated oil wealth projected to place Guyana among top oil-producing countries per capita. Guyana’s growth rate is expected to move from its highest eight percent to 30 plus percent. Cash transfer programmes already exist in our society where we see the business sector getting indirect forms of cash transfers through tax waivers, duty-free concessions and much more.
The elderly and others in need receive Social Assistance in the form of direct cash benefit. Cash transfers can be with or without conditions attached, some can be and are already done using a means test. This is evident with the Social Assistance programme. Applying qualifying conditionalities allows government the opportunity to maximize on societal compliance in areas of need. For example, persons accessing direct transfers can be required to pursue and complete certain educational programmes, achieve certain grades, ensure their children are vaccinated, and so forth. The opportunities and conditionalities are limitless. The benefits to society are bountiful and Guyanese must not allow this opportunity for people’s empowerment from Direct Oil Benefit (DOB) be dismissed as encouraging mendicancy. It is a vision any caring, progressive government is expected to explore and have.
The World Bank holds the perspective that cash transfers are a Safety Net for many in society. and defines this as “the provision of assistance in the form of cash to the poor or to those who face a probable risk of falling into poverty in the absence of the transfer. The main objective of these programmes is to increase poor and vulnerable households’ real income.” According to the Bank some areas targeted to achieve the objective are:-“i) Conditional cash transfer; ii) Fee waivers for health services; iii) Fee waivers for other services; iv) Food-related programmes; v) Microfinance; vi) Public works; vi) Price and other subsidies; vii) School feeding programmes.” Going by the aforesaid Guyana had/has both direct and indirect cash transfer as evident in PNC Government free uniform distribution, PPP/C government school uniform voucher, school feeding programme and recent grants given to the Amerindian community for micro-financing.
In 1976, after the nationalisation of bauxite and under the vision of the Forbes Burnham Government the Guyana Mining Enterprise (GUYMINE) established a Housing Department. That year the bauxite unions- Guyana Mine Workers Union (GMWU) and Guyana Bauxite Supervisors Union (GBSU) now the Guyana Bauxite & General Workers Union (GB&GWU)- negotiated with GUYMINE management a Loan and Grant Scheme for workers. This achieved a six-thousand dollars ($6000.00) grant buttressed by a six-thousand ($6000.00) interest-free loan for the purchase or construction of homes. There were housing developments such as the construction of Amelia Ward self-help, Wisroc housing scheme, Ituni housing scheme, Kwakwani housing scheme, and Bermine housing scheme in New Amsterdam.
Likewise, with the nationalisation of sugar, the Burnham government maintained the Sugar Industry Welfare Fund which was introduced in colonial times. This money went towards loans for workers employed in the industry for the purchase of house lots and home construction. The Fund also provided money for improving and building culverts, bridges and roads in communities adjoining the sugar estates. These were not only of personal benefit they benefitted entire communities.
What is observed in the era of oil and gas wealth is that talk of cash transfer is seemingly not finding favour among some in society. I have experienced talking to people about cash transfer and the immediate response is negative. Some are of the simplistic view cash transfers will create a lazy society and dependent people. This is a negative ‘class think’ and an anti-progressive way of looking at the role of Government to provide additional safety net for those so needing, of spreading wealth and creating development. There is a notable change and willingness to rethink their initial negativity towards cash transfers after I identify specific areas that they are able to relate to, that is already existing and those with the potential for development and expansion.
I also find that using the term Direct Oil Benefit (DOB) seems more acceptable. After all who among our average citizens will not welcome some DOB in the form of cash transfers whether direct or indirect with or without conditionalities. We know government will build schools, and other capital infrastructural developments that will serve society well. What we also need is a focus on making DOB with cash transfers to boost Social Development and our Human Index. This is a potential game-changer as it crosses all divides and brings the small man, the working class, the vulnerable, all genders, ages and classes into DOB that they can relate to individually and within their communities.
Rather than looking at ways to deny transfer- direct and indirect- we should look at ways how we can implement and execute DOB to all citizens. In principle, I support Professor Clive Thomas’ call for revenue from oil and gas to be paid as cash transfer which I refer to a DOB. I support disbursement of funds which provides money for investment opportunities- be it for home, education, business, or approved programmes to be identified after careful research. I support direct and indirect cash transfer as well as transfers with or without conditionalities. It is essential for Guyana and all our people. I also support participating in a panel discussion hosted by the Working People’s Alliance (WPA) on Monday, September 23rd, I proposed various ways in which DOB can be distributed. I am not opposed to extending beyond these areas of immediate interest and recognition:-
1. PAYE and tax rebate- for the employed and self-employed which allows for greater take-home income. For those18 years and older who are unemployed a monthly grant with conditionalities can be set. The conditionality can vary from returning to school to pursuing certain educational programmes that vary from time to time dependent on national needs. This is a gentle way of encouraging development of our human resources and chanelling same in directions of national need. Such educational grants can be available to all.
2. Unemployment Benefit- paid for a stipulated maximum time period, enabling persons in between jobs to be able to sustain themselves at least on the basics.
3. Meal programme- Expansion to provide a daily balanced lunch for school children from nursery to secondary for all public schools. Parents could opt-in or out.
4 Improvement of medical services- In addition to all 10 administrative regions being fully equipped with a main referral hospital and trauma centre, intensive care and diagnostic facilities, all should be able to get yearly mammogram, pap smear, prostate, basic annual blood tests and other necessary preventative health and wellness care services as necessary for promoting a healthy lifestyle and society.
5. Reduction in electricity, transportation and gas prices- With the production of oil and gas it is possible to transfer some of this benefit through the reduction in the cost of electricity and the sale of non-taxable gas. This country should also be able to reinstate a public transportation system, creating competition in the system, alternative means of transportation and moreso aiding the vulnerable in being able to afford and access this service.
6. Vat reduction and eventual elimination. This can be done for certain items, particularly essential items like water, health care and education. The applicability of this is worthy of review.
7. Green economy- cash transfers to encourage citizens to engage in more clean energy, for example, solar and or wind energy and other sustainable development programmes.
In addition to the above which is advocated to bring personal and direct benefit the following areas of investment are advocated:
8. Property owners direct and indirect cash transfers through interest-free or very low-interest rate soft loans to improve and maintain residences and immediate home environment. This will lend to the beautification of property, our communities, villages and towns.
9. Erasing National Insurance Scheme (NIS) deficit- this is needed to return the Scheme to viability since the NIS is the most important pillar safeguarding workers income and protecting each against loss of pay as a result of industrial, injury, sickness, maternity and other conditions such as old age, invalidity and loss of income through death of the breadwinner and providing assistance with medical care and other benefits. This will correct the years where NIS was adversely affected by political decisions that militated against actuarial decisions.
10. Immediate restoration of the constitutional right to free education- from nursery to university. This should see capacity building in the University of Guyana, technical and vocational schools, and the start of early public education that prepares our children for a technologically driven economy with e-learning. This includes facilitating the expansion and upgrading of Critchlow Labour College, GITC, Government Technical institutes, NARI, Guyana School Of Agriculture, Institute of Development and Continuing Education, etc.
11. Revetment and covered concrete drainage (and irrigation) structures meeting certain specific building and structural requirements as stipulated by the regional and local government authorities or those with oversight responsibilities. That will serve to regain much-needed land space and which can be utilised for greater parking and safer road use.
This proposal not only targets the workers- past, present and potential- irrespective of diversity but allows for equity in the system. DOB is essential for Social Development.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper)
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