Kaieteur News – The President’s $25,000 bonus and a pay increase, which is yet to be announced has found favour with some Guyanese. I limit myself to this reaction: $25,000 is better than nothing. However, it is nothing about which a Christmas Carol could be happily hummed. The news is that there is more to come from President Ali for other sections of the local workforce, and other citizens. Good, I say; but I venture to ask: are these efforts at easing the pain of living in Guyana good enough, have some staying power?
Life has become a constant pain for those at the bottom of the economic ladder in Guyana. It is not the matter of a nip here and nag in some place on the anatomy, but a full body affliction. Cost-of-living is the culprit, according to the incessant laments of Guyanese who feel it. Those who feel it know it, because they live with its harsh bites and stings. They need a hand; a two-fisted effort I would recommend, and urgently. Without a doubt, $25,000 is a welcome development for those who have nothing, or are close to such a frightening state. As much as I commend the President for his Christmas gift, I sincerely regret having to report to him that it is a drop in the bucket. Since the sun is so relentlessly hot, the $25,000 drop disappears in a hurry. It is back to square one, and staring at the grim cost-of-living wall, managing to coexist with it, somehow. Frankly, this is pitiful in a country the subject of so many glittering economic calculations. Today, Guyana certainly has a glamorously inviting appeal to foreign investors, but there is the grossness of Guyanese below the middle grappling to get by. In such circumstances, $25,000 comes and goes. It was President Ali himself who said (BBC interview, I think) that cash handouts are not the best option. Having said so, he has to be at a different place mentally, through programmes and provisions that help Guyanese out of poverty. The World Bank says that Guyanese are a ‘high-income’ people. Tell that to the Guyanese who labour to pay their rent, toil to buy food for a barebones existence.
Next, assuming it is an 8% raise, judging from last year’s increase, it may have merit. But for an entry level public servant ($80,000 approximately) that is a mere $6,400 monthly. For a $800,000 worker, inclusive of constitutional officeholders, it is $64,000, which is more than the current monthly minimum wage of $60,147. If I were a minimum wage worker, I may have become radicalized. So, what is it going to be this time around, when the next hike is official, $60,000 to $75,000, a big, fat, juicy 25% increase? Whether $75,000 or $80,000 (or more), this still doesn’t cut it. I think that the hopeful and the watchful already have a clue from Vice President Jagdeo: the unions are talking in these crazy numbers, like 50%. I have a guarantee: 50% it is not going to be. The calamity is that even 50% fails to close the cost-of-living gap, notwithstanding being better than 25% and $75,000. In this world-shattering economy, Guyanese had better brace themselves for the long haul. There is an economy that powers forward on Super B-Complex, and a huge population segment that plods along on Tylenol to numb its head.
In this poor man economic offering, all the gaudy economic numbers are absorbed, but where is the beef (or chicken)? Some feast on strawberry and cream, while countless many Guyanese flinch when they think of food. From where, and by what means? I add up all the billions (education, social services, tax threshold, and energy and utility subsidies), and when compared to national budgetary spending on bricks and mortars, a primeval scream rents the air. There is no comparison between what is spent on infrastructure versus human infrastructure (helping citizens make a living, assisting them in earning a wage that introduces the joy of living). Unlike any other season in Guyana’s history, money is not a problem. It is what is done with it that provokes severe differences. Some projects can wait; hungry and weak people can only wait, hang on, so long. Unless the plan is to cultivate a dependent citizenry, while setting them up for the kill. That is, they become so desperate that they will gratefully accept what they get, and go their way to celebrate, while such pittances last. I, too, would extol the virtues of the multiplier effect when the conditions of poor, working class Guyanese multiply for the better. It is not. Give citizens real money that matters. How I wish that the drive and determination of those at the helm to make this country most hospitable and prosperous for foreigners included locals.
Last, the call is for the same leadership enthusiasms for asphalt and steel and glass structures to be extended to Guyanese, who don’t have much of the good going for them. Even what is comfortable is not pleaded for, just the reasonable. I have a special holiday gift for Guyana’s President Dr. Mohamed Irfaan Ali: Guyanese should no longer be celebrating Christmas in the last week of December only. Please, Excellency, don’t go MIA on this particular exhortation.
(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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