Kaieteur News – The majority of the people of Guyana are opposed to a lockdown because it will affect their livelihoods. But this is a foolish position because the pandemic continues to hurt businesses and it would be much better to make a short-term sacrifice, in the form of a lockdown, in order to create the conditions for the full and sustained opening of the economy.
Businesses and people are however more concerned with the immediate. Even during the period in 2020 when non-essential businesses were closed, there were businesses that could have afforded then – and can still do so now – by selling from side entrances or closing their gates and taking orders which would be delivered to customers. Some non-essential businesses were brazen enough to open full-blown.
The business class wants to maximise their earnings. And therefore they are not prepared to support any closure which would affect them making money, regardless of the state of the pandemic in the country. It is all about the money!
Guyana has a large informal economy – unreported economic activity. A study was done four years ago which estimated that Guyana’s informal economy is between 35-44 percent of the economy.
The informal sector is not only large in size but also in the share of the country’s employment. In 1991, the number of persons employed in the informal economy was believed to be close to half of the workforce.
The Guyana Labour Force Survey done in 2017 found that between 48.3 percent and 52.6 percent of those working did so in an informal employment. Many of these persons survive on a day-to-day basis, that is, unless they worked they cannot eat or provide for their loved ones.
This is a reality in Guyana. During the five-month shutdown of the economy last year while the electoral mischief was taking place, there were persons walking around begging for jobs since they needed to put food on their tables. This is one of the reasons why many workers cannot afford a lockdown – they are fearful of not being able to feed themselves and families. Guyana may be an oil economy but we are nowhere near a bed of roses and it is not likely to get there either because of the oil deal which was inked by the APNU+AFC and which the PPP/C is refusing to renegotiate.
The government knows this but does not wish to admit it because it represents an indictment against 33 years of PNC rule and 23 plus year of the PPP rule. Our leaders know that it is hard for people to survive once the economy goes into a lockdown.
But it is not quite true that the economy or the population cannot afford a lockdown. After every election which the PNC/R has lost, the country has always gone on a lockdown for weeks and at times, such as in 1997, for months. All it takes is for one small protest demonstration by the PNC/R during those days and the entire commercial district of the country grinds to a halt.
Guyana can afford a lockdown for a month. This would be a short-term sacrifice which would allow for the economy to be reopened more fully. As things stands business is stunted because the economy is still reeling from the COVID-19 effects and production and other economic activity is still lacklustre.
The Vice President, Bharrat Jagdeo, keeps talking about the number of jobs being created by his government’s programme. But he does not have his antennas to the ground because, if he did, he would have known how difficult it is for persons to find work. There are lots of persons who are unemployed in Guyana but they are not interested in working. And some of them when they receive their pay on Fridays or Saturdays are absent from work on Monday because they are stale-boozed from the weekend’s drinking binge.
A lockdown will not be easy, that is understandable. But it will also not be fatal for the economy. A total lockdown is impossible but there can be a closure of non-essential businesses, rotation and an increase in the curfew hours from 5½ hours to 10½ hours.
The government will not agree to this because its friends in the business community want to make money. And it knows that the average man has mortgages and hire purchase loans to repay, they are likely to want to continue to make as much as they can. In other words, it is all about the money.
Money talks and COVID walks, except that COVID is doing more than walking; it is killing. And so long as the country does not go on some pause, the deaths will continue to mount.
Vaccination is not going to end the coronavirus epidemic in Guyana. Herd immunity is impossible since more than 25 percent of the population cannot be vaccinated since there are no vaccinates available locally for persons under 18 years.
Guyanese will learn the hard way. More persons will die before this is over – deaths which could have been prevented if only the people and the government were prepared to make a brief sacrifice.
(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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