Editor, the day before yesterday was a gut-wrenching day for me, as I paid a visit to several villages along the west coast of the Berbice River. First let me say that having grown up in a rural setting, I am familiar with the challenges of non-suburban living. Having said that, nothing in my past prepared me for what I saw and heard in the Trafalgar/Number 30 area. Apart from a few modern houses nothing has changed in this area in the last two decades. The abject poverty is palpable and the squalor and hardship of these citizens’ lives are incomprehensible and indefensible in the year 2011. An intelligent and very articulate 11-year-old who lives at Number 30 village and attends Berbice High School comes from a single parent home and has to pay $300 (minibus fare) every day to get to and from school. Her academic future is threatened because her mother after paying $12,000 monthly to transport one child to school is unable to balance the family budget. There is not much left from her monthly salary of $25,000, and there are two other promising children in the home. The speedboat that serves as an alternative to the bridge is not adequate, and is also an “unsafe” choice for some. With just one such boat operating many of the children are late for school. Complaints and suggestions have been made to the government about this problem, but there is no relief in sight.
At Number 29 I met an old buddy of mine; he has been living without any power for the last year, because the power company was demanding a down payment of $90,000 before connecting his service, He was able with help from his family to come up with half of this amount, but the corporation still refused to connect the service. In the adjoining village, the residents have telephones but no light, because GPL would not use the poles of the telephone company to run their transmission lines, even though it is alleged to have been done elsewhere and there is some inter-company agreement in existence to facilitate this. In the same village I met a woman who could not register, because after paying $2000 in travelling expenses to get a copy of her birth certificate, it arrived yesterday, months after her initial application. To say that she is angry would be an understatement. She wants to vote the PPP out, but with no identification card all she can do is pray that her neighbours do the right thing. After 77 years of living in Berbice, she says the last 19 years have been the worst of her life. Editor, as I surveyed rural Berbice it was a tale of two cities; some were having the best of times while others were living in enclaves of abject poverty, barely surviving but for the grace of God. As we passed villages with ostentatious trappings of great wealth, we would enter places where it seemed time had stood still. There are no jobs for the youth of these villages, no industry and no incentive to engage in agriculture. Their lives are further complicated by the red tape and arrogance of regional administrations that operate as if they are in charge of little fiefdoms, instead of like public servants.
Why in 2011, do we have parts of villages along our coasts without lights? What type of citizens do we expect to emerge from these enclaves of poverty? What I saw during my travels was a government that was engaged in selected development and this poses a moral dilemma; whom do we choose to serve and whom do we neglect? This is what one party rule is doing to Guyana, and will continue to do unless we find the courage to embrace a concept whose time has come. A government of national unity, run by a partnership for national unity (APNU), can be a fair arbiter, governing in a balanced and judicious manner, catering to all the people. No parent should have to make a choice between feeding her kids and sending them to school, and it is criminal to ask a senior citizen to pay $90.000 to connect anything. We need and we can do better.