There must be something about Guyana’s political and academic elites that makes us afraid of big ideas. Since I don’t share V.S Naipaul’s pessimism of the Caribbean civilization, I wouldn’t go where he went with his conclusion about the region’s capacity to exist and survive in a state of freedom. But I do wonder sometimes if we don’t give the detractors of our civilization the tools they need to justify why they should still treat us as if we are “half-children.” I align myself more with Calypsonian Chalkdust who penned the following lines in a calypso titled “Them People laughing at we”. He observes, “Though slavery gone/And the toils done/ Some white people/ Still having Fun/ For there are Black men /who by their works/ Still providing the whites with jokes.”
We have to be joking if after six decades of independence and all the money we invested in educating the current elites and after giving the world some of its most towering intellects, all we can say when confronted with a novel idea is “it cannot work.” I remember two decades ago when, faced with a crisis of governance in our ethically divided society, a few of us mainly from the WPA, PNC and ACDA (Ravi Dev and Moses Nagamootoo were also supporters) put the idea of Power Sharing or Shared Governance into the public domain, we got the same refrain—“it cannot work.” The esteemed Elder EusiKwayana, who in 1961 had first proposed the idea in Guyana, was moved to ask—“how do you know it cannot work if you don’t work it?”
The veterans of that campaign are still around. They will remember the frenzy in the newspapers—the mundane questions, the uninformed comments and downright nonsense. I am making a distinction between informed and intelligent disagreements and uninformed chatter. Today Shared governance is in every party’s manifesto. One party, ANUG, is even building its campaign around the idea. It was one of the APNU+AFC’s gold star campaign planks in 2015. You learn that history moves on and brushes aside the messengers of nothingness.
But history also repeats itself. Since Clive Thomas and the WPA introduced the one new idea on how we can creatively utilize a small portion of the expected Oil and Gas wealth in a new way, we have witnessed the same circus in the media. There are the uninformed who were colourfully described by Clive Thomas the other day. Then there are the social bigots steeped in their disdain for the poor. There are also those who know better but out of political jealousy bite their tongues—how can such a big idea come from a small, non-existent party they whisper. They obviously don’t read Alan Fenty’s column on the role of political “think tanks.”
So, you read and hear all kinds of nonsense about why Cash Transfers cannot work—I mean real nonsense that must have emanated from places I can’t describe in a public missive. Then there are the educated ones who ran for their economic textbooks and pull out all the inflations they could find. They line the newspapers with the imperfections of the idea, but not one line about its perfections as it transforms the lives of approximately 1.2 billion people globally. Others borrow terms associated with racial prejudice. The problem is that not one of these critiques start with the poor, for whom the policy is intended. For these experts, the poor are invisible. In any case what do they know of the poor? Ole People say, “Stone deh a bottom river, he nah know how sun hot.”
But the aspect of this whole thing that saddens me the most is the narrative that instead of Cash Transfers, the money should be spent on education, or agriculture, or infrastructure, or job creation or health care depending on which guru speaks. Some days I don’t know whether to laugh or cry in shame when I read or hear those suggestions from people who ought to know better. I want to scream—“But we already spending money on those things; a lot of money and for a long time now” What’s new about spending on education, infrastructure, etc.
I hope the government spends more to improve those areas. But the Cash Transfer discourse is on how we can creatively supplement those areas of development—how we can more directly invest in people. Education, jobs, health care, etc. are necessary and vital investments in people, but they are indirect investments. Cash Transfer is a direct investment that comes in the form of added income—Added Income, not free money and hand outs. In any case, government cannot give free money—a government is not a philanthropist.
Before I go, I must answer Mr. Jagdeo who I have acknowledged as one of our better Applied Economist. He is informed about Cash Transfers—its history and its economics. So, he is just playing games when he seeks to amplify his differences with the WPA’s proposal. He wants to give it to a targeted section of the society—the poor. So far so good. The WPA wants to give it to the poor too. But in our racially divided society, we know what a PPP or PNC “targeted section” would look like or be accused of looking like. I say no more. WPA says when you give to all households, you leave out no race and no section of the poor.
But this I know—every party contesting the coming election would have to address Cash Transfers in one form or the other, because it is the only creative and fresh people-centered idea that is being put before the people. Jump high, jump low, but give thanks to Clive Thomas and the WPA. As the Sage of Buxton asks with full wisdom —How do you know it cannot work if you don’t work it?
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