Amidst the swirl of anger, disgust, and defensiveness surrounding the presidential benefits package, I share a handful of simple thoughts.
It is unrealistic to expect that financially ascetic terms should be operative in any compensation and benefits scheme, particularly in Guyana. While I am personally in favour of such lean terms being the rewards for public service, I do recognize that the strength and capacity of character are not present locally to accept such conditions. It is just not there; indeed, the opposite is true, given what has happened.
Similarly, though on a less stringent scale, it must be acknowledged that the altruism that emanates from a certain nobility of the spirit, is largely lacking from those who rear up and rush forward to prowl the corridors of power. It might be present in confirmed slugs and dullards, but not some of those who lead in Guyana. Instead, there is the ugliness of converting office, and its attendant powers, to that of a milking cow: A cow that must be suckled and drained to the last drop in every form possible. Daily. That is why the official money numbers about compensation and benefits reverberate at high volume as lowdown, self centred raids on the limited national piggybank. The prevailing mentality is: grab and take; then grab and take some more. All things considered, this has to be the official, political version of choke and rob at its most predatory.
Now contrast this very surreal situation with the harsh reality of the ordinary Guyanese. I pick the number $100,000 Guyana dollars, as base monthly earnings. It is neither random nor arbitrary. It is highly likely that a significant percentage of working class citizens in this country do not officially earn $100,000 monthly. Not teachers, not nurses, not the lower ranks of the public and private uniformed protection services. It is the same for day labourers, domestics, and the battalions at street level on Regent Street, Water Street, or any other street. To these hardy souls, add those tens of thousands of unemployed who are willing and available for the dignity of work, but devastated by the lack of opportunity and any income. When aggregated, these disparate groups, along with others not mentioned, amount arguably to over a couple of hundred thousand adults. This is the real Guyana of flesh and blood, and burdened Guyanese who barely scratch out a living, trudge from day to weary day on a perilous pittance called pay, while accompanied by a dark hopelessness and emptiness.
What does a leader do in such stark, irrefutable circumstances? What should be his or her responsibility? That is, one who is real, decent, compassionate, and principled? One that is in a word – human. Such a leader would identify with the struggles of the people, and feel the anguish and despair. Not for him (or her) the luxuries of opulent figures; not for him the comforts of segregated distance. No, such a leader does not seek the separation of rarefied elevations. No, he or she tastes the bitter gall of the downtrodden and the afflicted; there is experienced the gnawing pangs of their sharp, ever present pain. The lot of the suffering peoples becomes the lot of those who lead with all its dread and sorrows of bread and rent and coin. Or lack of all of them. A genuine leader would dare to drink of the mother’s milk of the people, it would be found spasmodic and anaemic, in the mouth there would linger the sour of colic and the bitterness of desperate need. Through all of this association, a true leader would be immersed in the spare, bleak, gritty existence of those who look to him. And by his own example, he shows that he is one of them, and not separate and apart.
And what should be this example? It is to willingly reverse what went before; to relinquish through public self denial that which is abominable and mocks the Guyanese worker. There is no better way that the tangible action of reworking numbers steeply downwards, until there is some resemblance to what is endured every day by those without power, without necessities, and without hope. No one should be ashamed of such responsible and unselfish action. It would be the apex of what is just and exemplary. Also what is honourable and merely decent.