‘Because we care’

Something happened earlier this year which reminded me that government policy and programmes are not for all of us. I went to the Ministry of Housing to check on my land application and, as was the case before, was pushed around again, after an almost four-year wait.

The words “Because we care” are currently being used by the government to promote its roll out of a meagre education grant to parents with children in public schools. The campaign, which really ought to be muted given how paltry the sum is, has suddenly become a wider project indirectly aimed at winning public support.

The problem with this shameless politicking is this: This PPP/C government has lost the right–for some time now–to come before us and utter the words “Because we care.”

20131123ianaThe current Donald Ramotar-led administration and the one that preceded it have made no effort to build an inclusive society that offers everyone a fair chance of success. There is no inclusive approach to prosperity and we are not all partners in progress; a handful of people – managerial elite – wield vast economic, social and political power in Guyana.

It’s what former PPP/C member Ralph Ramkarran calls “crony capitalism” and as he further explained, the politics of former president Bharrat Jagdeo included an agenda “to nurture and encourage a group of business people, many of whom expanded through opportunities available from state contracts and other linkages, into massive and still growing conglomerates.”

The truth is that we have had positive economic growth for the last few years but there has been no balanced approach to development. Look at the United Nations Human Development Report and see how far down the index we continue to place.

We live in a society in which the majority of citizens are not afforded an opportunity to live to the fullest of their potential. There is no state agenda which is intended to spread our development justly and broadly, and empowerment is just for a select few. What this government has actually been telling us is that we are on our own as far as prosperity and success go, and the majority is left powerless to look on as the chosen minority climbs.

Looking more closely at the education sector, one would find that with the exception of an interior feeding programme and the uniform voucher, which was introduced some years ago to offset the burdensome annual back-to-school expenses, the parents of students in the public schools have been on their own. Thousands struggle to raise the required sum for enrolment and other miscellaneous fees, and more importantly, they constantly worry about how to feed their children and afford transportation at the same time.

What’s the point of telling parents that “you care” when children in our country are going to school hungry or not going at all because the means are simply not there. What’s the point of saying “you care” when recently released literacy rates indicate that too many of our children still cannot read. All of this is taking place as the erosion of public confidence in the free education system continues, as evidenced by the increasing numbers of enrolments at private institutions and the growing number of those institutions themselves.

When I was running back and forth at the Housing Ministry, I was reminded that now, every bit as much as when Bharrat Jagdeo was in power, Guyana is representative of totalitarian politics. The political landscape is crowded with elites empowered with a sense of entitlement and who believe that they were elected so that we could serve them.

This is the version of democratic politics that we have accepted. This is the version of politics that has encouraged me to apply for a plot of land and after nearly four years has shut me out of the process.

There is no point in telling that me that “you care” when your housing policies are imbalanced with adequate room for inducements and under-the-table payouts. While it’s true that access to housing has improved, affordability remains a major issue. Check the numbers of Guyanese who continue to live in inadequate housing, unable to gain and sustain a safe and secure home to live in peace and dignity.

In my case, being single, young and employed meant I was likely to pay substantively more for land than the majority of people applying. What’s more, I was also more likely to be offered the lots which were going for $1.3 million and above. But even this requires having the right political and social connections because my application is lying somewhere at the ministry gathering dust.

When I enquired at the ministry for the umpteenth time in May this year, a staff member casually said, “The application has to go the minister for approval… he has to see everything and approve them.”

These are the things we ignore; the crippling bureaucracy across ministries that are created because individual leaders are more powerful than institutions – politics and governance become very personalised and by extension, petty.

Putting this new government slogan, “Because we care” into a larger perspective, let’s examine a few other issues.

What about local government elections and the failure to set a date? Instead, we have heard how the Guyana Elections Commission is not in a state of preparedness and how deceased persons are on the list of electors, et cetera. In truth, this government has no intention of devolving decision-making as far as it can go in our communities. It continues to deny us the democratic right to have a say in how our communities are managed, and more importantly, it has no interest in empowering citizens to have real control over what happens in their communities.

This government ‘cares so much’ that it fears opening up politics in society so that people can have real power.

And just this week the Ministry of Public Works, led by Minister Robeson Benn, who like his government ‘really cares,’ removed water vendors from plying their trade at the junction of Irving and Lamaha streets, saying that they were creating significant traffic congestion and safety risks.

No doubt these concerns are exaggerated and no statistics were provided to back up the claims. But the vendors, mostly women who make up our informal sector, are now forced to “hustle for a dollar” at some other corner with the hope that they can work there unhindered.

What Minister Benn and his ‘caring government’ wouldn’t tell us is that these vendors are part of a large group of entrepreneurs who lack the collateral to benefit from the limited microcredit schemes they are offering, but still manage to make an honest living by hustling to sell on our roadways. These women, who are out there at that corner, are sending their children to school and keeping them there because of this trade.

Now that he has had them removed, maybe government can demonstrate how much ‘it cares’ and offer some support or consider an enterprise fund and some training that will benefit these vendors and allow for them to be integrated into the formal economy.

What about social security and the treatment meted out to the elderly who would have served this nation? The old age pension is still a paltry $13,125 per month, which like the minimum wage, does not permit people to live in dignity.

From a crippling tax system to inadequate medical care, a lack of accountability across the board, and the abuse of power in higher office, there are many more examples of how much this government ‘cares.’ Its inequalities, systemic violence, and the isolating and discriminatory policies and politics is the kind of care that we don’t need.

Have a question or comment? Connect with Iana Seales at about.me/iseales

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