The presidency has a moral responsibility to provide guidance to young people

Dear Editor,

President Jagdeo in his efforts to get credit for winning the election and maintaining his influence over Mr Ramotar and the PPP leadership continues to mislead the public in his various pronouncements. He makes up stories, distorts facts and takes credit for things done by others. He is, in other words, engaging in ‘eye-pass.’

His ministers are little better. On Friday the papers reported that Guyana had done very well on Millennium Goals as far as education is concerned. This is true but given where Guyana came from the relevant target should not be restricted to access to primary education. In fact, whilst access is high, more importantly, the proportion of those completing school has declined. Less than 50% of schoolchildren have managed to pass English and Mathematics. Literacy among males ‘educated’ under the PPP stands at an alarming 72%, a fall from an estimated 80% in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

The ‘eye-pass’ is not limited to economic issues. Whenever President Jagdeo uses state funds, coercion and fear to muster Africans at election time he urges them to join the fight against racism and prejudice. The large numbers of Africans addressed last Friday were not a reflection of enthusiasm for the PPP but of the effectiveness of the coercion of Africans in economic difficulties.

Close to elections only, President Jagdeo can find it possible to make funds available to constituencies not favoured by the PPP.  His government provides little of consequence between elections. This is the situation with Buxton, the Georgetown municipality and the public service. In the latter case, allowances have been frozen for the three years preceding this election year. Suddenly they were increased. He seems to believe that the affected communities and the public at large will not realise that he and his cynical government have no intention of or interest in promoting development in these areas.

Even in the case of the use of funds to bring in artistes, government policy is inadequate. The PNC spent money to bring in international artistes. That arrangement was, however, part of an integrated programme intended to help develop local skills. When famous Indian artistes such Lata Mangeshkar were brought here, the promoters were always required by the PNC government to showcase local Indian artistes and, in the interim, resources were provided to support basic facilities in schools and related professional institutions such as the Cultural Centre and the National  School of Dance. I wonder whether the government has any such conditions in return for its support of the Trey Songz and Eve show over the weekend and the arrangements for the Shilpa Shetty performance.

President Jagdeo needs to stop fantasizing and to stop talking nonsense about PPP achievements over the last 19 years relative to the years of his youth. He would have us believe that in PNC times he was punished and disadvantaged with free education, subsidised health services, food subsidies equivalent to 15% of GDP, electricity, telecoms and sugar prices which at one stage were fixed for years and, a foreign scholarship under the PNC in spite of being an Indian. He should look around. He should see what is happening in areas as diverse as Charlestown and Subryanville, Lodge and Regent Street.  He should take stock of the public squalor alongside private affluence. He should look at the unprecedented levels of destitution on the streets and the public health hazards posed by rubbish disposed of along Bourda, the Princes Street canal, by St Sidwells Church on Hadfield St, in the villages along the coast, etc. To most other people it is no surprise therefore that life expectancy at birth in Guyana is 63.3 years. Today when we are free of all of those terrible PNC policies. young Guyanese can expect to enjoy a shorter life span than young people elsewhere in the Caribbean.

In Guyana today there are indecent income disparities between communities and within racial groups, extensive urban destitution primarily manifested among Africans, growing people trafficking of Indian and Amerindian girls/women, evident in the premises along Robb and Charlotte Streets, for example, declining African academic achievements and the related ghettoisation of much of Georgetown. The youths can see the mad rush to transfer communal and state lands in urban areas in particular, to PPP ‘businessmen.’

Most importantly, for the youth whom President Jagdeo addressed, unemployment levels are, according to the Guyana 2000 Labour Force Survey, 43% and highest among youths. Unemployment is worst among women, although as a group they do better at school than males. This is largely why people trafficking is rising in the midst of general lawlessness in the country, particularly on the part of the PPP government. As former President Hoyte pointed out as long ago as 1994, PPP discrimination is most virulent in the arena of employment. In is an area of special interest to the African youth of Guyana. Some 14% of the labour force of GuySuCo, on which the government’s future hopes are still pinned, consisted of Africans in 1990. They could be found concentrated in the factories of the company and constituted a significant proportion of the directors. Today not a single African can be found on the Board. And if the numbers have increased among the general employees it is because they do manual and ‘unskilled’ work where there is a chronic shortage of labour. In 2009 the late Winston Murray confided to me that he was embarrassed and dismayed to find, in attending the commissioning of the Skeldon Sugar factory, that there was not a single African employee to be found in the factory even as window dressing.

Mr Jagdeo omitted to relate this to the conference but he remembered that police in the 1980s were required to search pots to see what people were cooking.

Anyone knowing Guyana prior to 1992 would be shocked to see the changes in African participation in the skilled vs unskilled activities. In a country where over a third of the aircraft pilots were African and the corps widely mixed, I could find in a recent picture of the Ogle training school staff only two Africans out of a staff of 19.  This type of transformation, a norm in the private sector, is now also becoming evident in the central and local government systems with the institutionalized bypassing of the PSC, TSC and PSM via the use of contracts and the management of the local government system by REOs without reference to any effective uniform personnel arrangements or structure. As regards the contracts a reviewer has noted that as in relation to emoluments in a situation where contracts are fast becoming permanent, “… that it has become the general practice, if not the articulated policy, to increase pay for ‘pensionable’ incumbents without relevance to performance, by an average of 5% annually, contrasts dramatically with the literal gratuitousness of 22.5% made annually to the ‘contract employee.’  Such a differentiation cannot be justified, even if strong performance eligibility were written into the contract.” In the case of the LG cadre, one analyst recently observed that the, “ REO is an employee contracted at an undisclosed level that appears to preclude publication of salary and benefits attributable to the position… More importantly perhaps, is the total lack of knowledge of the educational and experience criteria to be satisfied in order to earn such an appointment; and of the specific recruitment and selection process involved.“

This practice under which preferred ethnic groups and friends are inducted into the service with better pay for the same work had become widespread under Mr Jagdeo, and Mr Ramotar who has ventured no opinion on key ethnic problems or governance abuses to date except to deny their existence, should tell the youth whether he proposes to continue to turn a blind eye or to perpetuate such evils if re-elected.

The Demerara Harbour Bridge and Essequibo roads are still with us. What Mr Jagdeo also needed to tell the youths is that the G7 Communiqué of June 2005 indicated that the debt cancellation from which HIPC countries benefited will be accompanied by a corresponding dollar for dollar reduction in gross assistance flows. To offset this Guyana needs to improve its foreign trade performance through the long-term development and diversification of its economic structure.  Good sugar export performance is key here as is foreign investment. Both these areas are hostage to the dysfunctional approach of the PPP/C government to the management of investment, its discriminatory approach to the rights of different citizens in the community and the question of accountability. For the year 2010, sugar production was 220,862 tonnes 5.5% less than the production in 2009. Bauxite production contracted by 9.8% and mining and quarrying as a whole fell by 6.9%. Foreign direct investment is concentrated in gold and mining. The incentive to invest elsewhere is limited by high transaction costs arising from rampant corruption. Doubtless the latter point partly explains why Guyanese are now ranked as being less free economically than most of the world. In fact 150 of the world’s countries are more free. It is hard to believe that we could be even more unfree than the country is corrupt! Of course the two matters are related.

Having spent borrowed funds, we are experiencing a rate of GDP growth (2.3 and 3.6% respectively, in 2009 and 2010) too low to generate sufficient income to service the remaining and new debts or to provide adequate levels of employment. In order to do this Guyana needs to develop capable and analytical youths whose behaviour and habits are consistent with a productive, vibrant and flexible workplace and competitive businesses. How will Messrs Ramotar and Jagdeo ensure that youths are encouraged to develop their skills and stay in Guyana over the next five to ten years to build such a sector? The World Economic Forum‘s Global Competitiveness Report 2008-2009 ranks Guyana at 115 out of 134. The report identifies corruption as one of the major obstacles for doing business in the country along with crime and theft, tax rates, inefficient government bureaucracy, untrained workforce and lack of access to affordable financing.

Instead of addressing such issues Mr Jagdeo dishes out a riot of PPP misrepresentation on the PNC and the current situation. But under this administration misrepresentation is the order of the day. Some years ago Mr Ellis, one of this country’s finest public sector economists and planners, drew to the attention of President Jagdeo’s PR official the fact that the BBC version of President Jagdeo’s  CV states that he was employed at the Republic Bank as well as the IMF and World Bank as an economist – assertions we all know are completely untrue. How they came by that misinformation would be interesting but the fact that it remains there at least five years after it was pointed out is another matter. But then this is Guyana, its best economists are denied work within and outside of its borders and a politician without a clue is paraded as experienced. A person with a first degree in medicine or engineering would not be deemed a doctor or engineer but President Jagdeo commends to the youths, Mr Donald Ramotar, as a sound economist, a man who has never been employed as an “economist” by a single entity since he graduated many years ago.

President Jagdeo has already presided over the most corrupt government the region has ever seen. His enthusiasm to push Mr Ramotar as an economist is based on his own need to stay close to the Office of the President and the seat of power. He wants to be a back-seat driver. In order to achieve this he finds it necessary to expose us and our children to all manner of nonsense and fabrications.

The presidency has a moral responsibility to provide guidance to our young people so that they can become decent and responsible citizens capable of looking at information, analyzing it and drawing their own conclusions rationally and dispassionately.

Mr Jagdeo needs, therefore, to stop talking nonsense when it comes to youth and to make an effort to provide them with hope and to set an appropriate example as a President.

Yours faithfully,
Carl Greenidge

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