People suffer when public policy collides

Conflicts occur
The year is almost at an end, but there are already indications of how the country would perform in 2012. The mid-year report on the economy was encouraging even if not spectacular. Growth in the first half of the year was reported at 2.8 per cent, and a key contributor was the service sector. This sector is responsible for most of the industries in the economy and the biggest share of income of the country.  The service sector is made up of several different groups of activities and embraces almost everything of social and economic importance. The industries that are listed under the service sector include transportation, storage, communication, information, tourism, distribution, health, education, electricity, water, real estate services, financial services, public service, safety and security.  With such a large number of industries, there was likely to be conflicting policy positions periodically on matters of importance to the general public.  These conflicts occur frequently, but when they involve the collision of money and security, people can feel offended or even suffer devastating consequences.

Two industries in the service sector that are currently experiencing that conflict are tourism and social services.  This conflict has arisen as a result of the contention that the administration has offered tax concessions that would amount to a benefit in the entertainment transaction involving Chris Brown, the famed entertainer.  Chris Brown, who was found guilty of domestic violence against Rihanna, a famous female Caribbean singer, is expected to perform in concert at the National Stadium on December 26, 2012.

Contrasting circumstances
The contrasting circumstances for the administration derive from the obligation to protect Guyanese women from abuse inside and outside the home, and from appearing to support it in any form or fashion.  Since the adoption of the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women in 1993, civil society and governments have acknowledged that violence against women is a public policy issue with serious social and economic consequences that must be confronted aggressively.  Chris Brown’s link to violence, an issue which appears to have reached epidemic proportions in Guyana, has stirred passions among Guyanese.  Advocates for the prevention and elimination of violence against women are concerned that the support of the administration for the concert was creating an illusion of support for domestic violence that could be interpreted as real.

Different goals

The Lucas Stock Index (LSI) recorded a slight gain of 0.86 per cent in the first trading period for the month of November 2012. The stocks of Banks DIH (DIH) and Guyana Bank for Trade and Industry (BTI) recorded gains of 1.82 and 4.17 per cent respectively. The stocks of Demerara Bank Limited (DBL) posted a small loss of 0.36 per cent. The positive movement of the stocks this week has pushed the LSI to over 40 percentage points above the yield of the 364-day Treasury Bills.

The two competing positions seek to serve two different goals and collide at the intersection of Guyanese tax dollars and how to spend them.  A review of the 2012 budget presentation reveals that the public policy goals of the tourism industry are many.  They seek to promote Guyana as a tourist destination with a unique brand and to make the Guyana brand as widely known as possible.  Another key goal of the industry is to make the Guyanese tourism product attractive while increasing the capacity of the industry to meet demands for its products and services.  Part of the strategy of the administration is to use entertainment events like the Chris Brown concert to help it to achieve its goals.  It appears therefore that the administration feels that it is a defensible policy position to use the money of Guyanese taxpayers to support the Chris Brown concert.

In reviewing the debate on whether taxpayer support for the concert is justified or not, many, including the administration, seem to think that the issue is about Chris Brown.  Every reasonable person appreciates that Chris Brown has undergone rehabilitation and is doing his best not to repeat the offence for which he is still serving probation.  But, the ultimate value of spending taxpayer dollars on the concert is not about Chris Brown.  Just as how the event is thought to have indirect benefits for tourism, it could also have indirect consequences for domestic violence.  The issue is about whether the victims of domestic violence in Guyana and those who might suffer such fate in the future are a public policy priority, and if the administration truly appreciates the vulnerabilities and sensibilities of domestic violence to the human condition in this country.

That is the derivative of headlining Chris Brown at the December 26 concert, and it is not a good one.  The disposition of the administration contrasts disapprovingly with the Irish Hip-Hop group Original Rudeboys whose mantra is against domestic violence, and who refused to open for the Chris Brown show to take place on December 3 this year despite the chance of a very lucrative payday. The morals of Hip-Hop singers appear to be higher than those of the Guyanese administration looking through the prism of this conflict.

In assessing its implications, one should treat domestic violence as a unique or known variable and not as a stochastic or random variable in the human development equation.  Some experts have found that domestic violence strips power from women and is a major obstacle to good decision-making by them. Domestic violence therefore should not be dismissed as some throwaway concept in the debate over how to spend tax dollars.  The administration’s appearance of being indifferent to domestic violence in this instance is just as emotionally harmful and dangerous as if it were openly supporting it.  While it is clear what tourism purpose the concert will serve, it is not clear what good social-service purpose it will engender, especially when one considers the demographic that was most likely to attend the concert aware of the incongruity in public policy on tourism and domestic violence.

Vulnerable age group
A WHO multi-country study that also focused on domestic violence against women observed that younger women, especially those around the age of 21, were at a higher risk of experiencing physical or sexual violence or both from a male partner.  Guyana was not part of the study, but Guyanese need to take note of the findings.  A substantial portion of the audience to the Chris Brown concert is expected to be within the vulnerable age group identified by the study. The same study observed also that violence against women is not merely a social problem.  It is seen as an important contributor to women’s ill-health. Evidence of domestic violence manifests itself in headaches, back pain, gastrointestinal disorders, depression, suicide and risky sexual behaviour in later life. How domestic violence is handled now will determine future costs to this country.

Lack of sensitivity
It should be known to the administration that working women could suffer loss of wages through a temporary inability to contribute to the gross national product.  Their children could be affected also by the trauma of their mother’s abuse and her incapacitation. The study found that domestic violence has been associated with high incidences of infant and child mortality.

One concern among social workers in Guyana is the lack of sensitivity being shown by the administration to the plight of victims.  To them, greater emphasis was being placed on the economic value of the concert rather than on the economic value of the human development of all Guyanese. So the debate on this issue should be about whether the tourism benefits of the concert outweigh the indirect human development costs produced by it.

Every concerned Guyanese would be pleased to see the administration do like the Original Rudeboys and step back from this show if only to reassure victims of domestic violence that it understands their situation.  It would be the correct thing to do under the circumstances if only because people suffer when public policy collides like it does in this case.

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