A directive that they open bank accounts in order to receive their salary has upset teachers and other public servants in the Deep South Rupununi, some of whom would have to travel over 200 km and pay about a third of their salary in transportation costs just to get their money from the bank in Lethem.
“We are all frustrated here,” one worker told Stabroek News, echoing the sentiments of others in the remote Region Nine area. Several public service workers who spoke with Stabroek News requested that their names not be published because they feared victimization. “Most of us feel we cannot afford this,” one teacher said. “We have expenses to pay and we need the salaries to come directly here.”
The villages in the Deep South Rupununi: Shea, Maruranau, Awaruwaunau, Aishalton, Karaudarnawa and Achiwuib are 139, 147, 161, 193, 213 and 233 km from Lethem respectively. Parabara which also has a school is 247 km away from Lethem where the only banks in Region Nine are based. Ordinarily, salaries are taken to Aishalton and then headmasters and health workers travel to that community to uplift the salaries for their respective schools and health centres.
However, several workers at Aishalton told Stabroek News that on March 21 when they went to uplift their salaries, they had to sign a circular signed by Regional Executive Officer Claire Singh which said that it was the final instruction that they must set up a bank account by April 21 to receive their salaries. They were required to sign the document before they could uplift their money. “They said we had to sign the letter before we collect our salary and of course we needed our salary so we signed the circular,” one woman recounted. “We needed our money so we had to sign.”
Workers at Aishalton said that it was the first time they had seen the circular. They, along with teachers from other communities were upset at the new requirement because of the expense and time it would take to travel to Lethem to uplift their money. They said that from Aishalton, a seat on a vehicle is $10,000 return during the dry season while to hire a motorcycle costs about $30,000. Vehicles do not travel regularly on the trail and the cost rises during the rainy season, the teachers said.
It was pointed out that in the health care sector, some workers earn as little as $35 000 and when transport costs are taken into account, it would represent about 1/3 of their salary. In addition, they would have to cater for accommodation and meals. “It would be hard for us to go to withdraw our salary from Lethem,” one woman lamented.
Stabroek News was told that at a village meeting at Aishalton on March 24, the issue was discussed and the Regional Vice-Chairman Douglas Casimero wrote to Singh identifying a teacher as saying that he (the teacher) sees it as a threat should he not comply with opening a bank account for the processing of salaries within the time-frame stipulated in the circular. “He further asserted that should payment be processed through the bank, one would incur additional expenses to withdrawing salaries on a monthly basis, for example, expenses towards transportation, meals and accommodation, unlike the teachers of Lethem and its environs, who are geographically closer to the bank. The teacher had asked that some consideration be made by the relevant authorities to address his concern and of the others who may be in similar situation,” Casimero wrote.
“I am confident that some consideration will be given and that further guidance offered to this specific concern,” the letter said.
Teachers said that the decision would be tough for them. “It will be bad for us because the letter came in so abrupt,” one said, while adding that it would be difficult to go to Lethem every month. “We have to find $10,000 for passage, what are we left back with?” another asked. One teacher said that most of them do not have their own transportation and there are also some teachers who are single parents and would find it difficult. “They didn’t consider the rainy season and the distance we have to travel,” another added.
It was also noted that time in the classroom will be affected as the teachers would want to collect their money and it would usually be a day to travel, a day in Lethem and another day to return. “It’s not a stone’s throw away,” one teacher observed. In addition, it was also pointed out that teachers are only allowed seven days of personal leave for the year and they cannot take it in increments of more than two days and if they exceed this, they would have to take no-pay leave. “They want to put a dent in our pockets and we are not receiving enough,” one teacher said even as other lamented the high cost of living in the area and the fact that they would usually take credit from shops in the area and would pay when they get their salary.
“We’re not saying it’s a bad idea but the cost of going to open a bank account and the cost of travelling to withdraw your salary on a monthly basis is high,” one said. It was also noted that no travelling allowance is paid to teachers.
Government pensioners are also affected. One woman said that when she went to Lethem to uplift her pension, she was told that she had to set up a bank account because the sub-treasury would not be processing pensions any more.
She said that when she went to the bank, she did not have all the required documentation and so was unable to set it up. “We are not against what they are doing but for the sub-district, it is too far for us,” she said.
Concern was also expressed about other pensioners who receive $12,500 per month and also those unable to travel. In some cases, it is usually the toshaos who uplift pensions for those unable to travel.
Several recommended the opening of a postal agency or a branch of a bank in the area. Several emphasized that they had no problem with the initiative but the travelling would be costly for them.