Kaieteur News – With no parties permitted this Old Year’s Eve, I was forced to revert to what most Guyanese do as they welcome the New Year. With a plate of cook-up in hand, I tuned in to television for the traditional Old Year’s Night countdown to 2021.
At midnight, the explosion of celebrations on the radio was interrupted by the President’s Annual New Year’s Address. It is a tradition for Guyanese to greet each other for the New Year and then to quickly tune in to the radio and television broadcast of the President’s New Year’s Address so as to hear what the government has in store for them.
The majority of Guyanese would have been disappointed by what the President had to say. He sounded more like a ‘sweet man’ than a statesman, mouthing sweet nothings.
‘Sweet men’ are adept at making general promise, “I can look you after, everything gan be fine with you, you don’t have to worry about nothing.” But behind the sugar-coated words there are no concrete promises.
The President promised that this year will be a ‘springboard’ for recovery. The metaphor could not be more inappropriate. It is like saying that hospitalization will be the trigger for recovery.
Recovery is more crawling than leaping or springing. But who cares? The supporters of the President would have gobbled that with the excitement of a child on a trampoline.
At the end of the address, the only take-away was the idea that 2021 will be a springboard. It is difficult to reconcile this idea of recovery with the statement that Guyana was enjoying its brightest prospects yet.
But what really caused me to choke on my bone was the President’s declaration that he had been told that business was brighter this Christmas than over the past five years and that money was circulating. I am not sure just how the President came by this assessment but he should dispense his friendship or relationship with whoever communicated this to him. They surely were not being forthright.
The business people, whom I have spoken, have a different perspective. Their verdict is that this was the slowest Christmas in over 30 years. The frequent refrain emanating from store owners and vendors alike was that business was slow and that money was not circulating as before, quite unlike the lies which the President had been told.
Consumers, those who were brave enough to attempt to go shopping last Christmas, would have found that very few products were on display. Many of the electronic stores, for example offered mainly speakers as their main attractions. Store owners hardly imported, preferring to dig into their inventories and excavate old stock since they were mindful that pandemic would have reduced purchasing power.
That purchasing power was further diminished by the failure of the government to offer public sector workers the usual ‘back pay’ for 2020. Only the joint services got a two-week bonus, quite unlike the restoration of the 13th month pay promised during the election campaign.
Christmas bonuses are not part of the public sector tradition. The APNU had paid a $50,000 per person bonus in 2015, reduced it to $25,000 the next year and then abolished it all together afterwards.
Under the PPP/C back pay had become institutionalized. It was always seen as an additional income for Christmas. Not offering workers any retroactive increase this year left a bitter taste in the mouths of public sector employees. And the feedback may have motivated the government to make the late-hour $25,000 per worker pay-out.
The pay-out came too late to finance the New Year’s Eve traditional cook-up or the New Year’s lunch spread. It has been ridiculously titled as a COVID-19 pay-out which makes it all the more absurd, since it makes the COVID-19 pay-outs all the more inequitable and discriminatory. If a husband and wife of any household are working in the public sector, it means that the total COVID-19 grants received would be $75,000. Yet, a poor household without any public sector workers, would only receive $25,000
Incompetence and shame force governments into this type of ridiculous situation. The government seemed not to have had a handle on its financial needs for the past four months. It had to rush to the National Assembly for approvals for supplementary spending.
Then it suddenly realized that it had the monies to pay public sector workers, including sugar workers. But not wanting to set a precedent of a Christmas bonus, President Ali and his Finance Minister, who is supposed to be an accountant, have absurdly titled the pay-out as a COVID-19 grant.
All of that made this year’s Old Year’s Night cook-up taste all the more bitter in the mouths of Guyanese. That bitterness was compounded by an address to the nation which was more flatulence than substance.
(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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