Kaieteur News – When the APNU+AFC came into power, they hosted a grand inauguration event at the National Stadium, welcoming a large turnout of the general public. Conversely, when the PPP/C reclaimed office, their inauguration was an exclusive gathering, limited to invited guests.
During the former event, the audience was predominantly composed of working-class supporters. In contrast, the latter inauguration was attended mainly by Guyana’s affluent and well-known individuals, leaving the majority of PPP/C’s working-class supporters to watch the proceedings on their television screens.
It might be tempting for some to assess the government’s ideological orientation based on these observations, suggesting that the APNU+AFC displayed a stronger connection to the working class, while the PPP/C’s inauguration appeared more bourgeois. However, if such conclusions do not stand rigorous scrutiny, it is all too easy to be swayed by superficial appearances and charismatic leaders who claim to represent the interests of the people. The image of a president or government official frequently engaging with the public and listening to their concerns can, and often are intended, to embed certain impressions on the minds of citizens. This is why today people are often heard making the pronouncement that one President was not a people’s person but the other was a man of the people.
We must resist the temptation to assume that gestures such as the frequency with which a leader meets the people, define that leader’s allegiance to the people. Class allegiances in politics are much more nuanced. To truly understand the class alliances of a government, we must scrutinize their economic policies, as they reveal the true beneficiaries of governance.
Class allegiances in politics are not always straightforward. A leader’s public persona, activities, and interactions with the masses may create an illusion of being a “man of the people.” However, such appearances can be deceiving.
A leader who engages frequently engages with the public, holding community meetings and listening sessions across the country may appear to be a champion of the people, but his or her true class allegiances become apparent when we analyze the economic policies they implement. The litmus test, in this case, is to assess who benefits the most from these policies, as this reveals the government’s true class alliances.
To assess a government’s class alliances, one must look through the economic lens. Economic policies are perhaps the most accurate indicators of which class or group stands to gain the most from a government’s actions. These policies encompass taxation, fiscal measures, wages policies and social policies. By examining these policies, we can discern the government’s priorities and identify the class that benefits the most.
The PPP/C and the APNU+AFC pursued neo-liberal economic policies. As such, their broad policy outlook would inevitably be biased in favour of the rich over the poor. While neo-liberal economics have sought to cultivate the idea of incorporating working class policies, neo-liberal economics has proven to be a failure in terms of shifting class relations in society. Under neo-liberalism, the poverty may be reduced through the right interventions but the gap between the rich and the poor and between the lower, middle and upper classes becomes much wider.
The workers in Guyana may feel that they are obtaining the most benefits under the present tax system. They will point to the constant increases in the income tax threshold and the zero-rating of a number of consumer items. However, these very policies help the rich more than the poor. It will take a separate column to establish such a thesis. Under both the APNU+AFC and the PPP/C government, it was the bourgeois class which reaped the most benefits from the government’s tax concessions and zero rating of items, especially in the construction and consumer sector where tax relief was not passed on to consumers.
Government spending has disproportionately favoured the wealthy over the less affluent. Presently, there are individuals in the business world who have never engaged in manual labour, yet are swiftly establishing companies and vying for government contracts. While governments like to brag how their public investments generate jobs for the workers, this tends to obscure the fact that for every dollar the workers obtain, the contractors obtain two.
Governments representing the working class should not be imposing salary increases for workers. Instead, they should work gradually towards the goal of paying workers a living wage. Regrettably, the APNU+AFC and the PPP/C administrations have been remiss in their commitment to collective bargaining for public servants and have treated the concept of a living wage as though it would spell disaster for the country. But the only reason why a living wage is not being paid is because it will be resisted by the business class – the class that has seized control of the government.
Social policies can sometimes create the illusion that they primarily benefit the less privileged in society. These policies give rise to the notion that public investments in areas like healthcare, education, and housing are designed to improve the lives of the poor. However, in practice, these policies can be misleading. For instance, the education system often falls short of its promise, producing a significant number of graduates who lack basic literacy and numeracy skills. Only a small fraction of students manage to graduate with qualifications that enable them to secure entry-level employment.
Similarly, disparities in healthcare delivery mean that those with financial means can access the best healthcare services in the country, while the less fortunate are forced to rely on substandard healthcare services. The sub-standard public health service is actually helping to grow private medical care in this country. The worse the public health system becomes, the greater the need for private hospitals. It is business class that benefits from such a system.
The government’s housing programme has been co-opted by the bourgeois class that has used it to further their own enrichment. This has resulted in widening income gaps within society, setting the stage for potential future class conflicts in Guyana. If tomorrow the government was to do an audit to see how many homeowners got house lots, the results would lead to a national scandal. Instead of empowering the poor, the government’s much-vaunted housing programme is increasing the gap between the rich and the poor.
Appearances can be deceiving, and a leader’s public persona may not accurately reflect his or her true class allegiances. To gauge a government’s alignment with a particular class, one must look beyond photo opportunities and examine just who gets.
If an objective appraisal is done, it would confirm that while the poor celebrate over the crumbs they receive, Guyana is a country in which the rich are getting richer and the gap between the working, middle and upper classes are widening.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and beliefs of this newspaper and its affiliates.)
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