Guyana’s economy shrank between 1964 and 1992

Dear Editor,

Carl Greenidge ought to be ashamed of himself and should know that his recent press statements are not only intellectual dishonesty, but reckless (‘The debt inherited by the PPP/C in 1992…‘ Sunday Stabroek, August 21). That he was a part of a government which absolutely destroyed our country is no longer a contentious issue among decent and objective Guyanese; everyone now accepts that the post-independence period up to 1992 represented lost years for our proud country. The fact that the Guyanese people have moved on does not mean we have forgotten. Trying to make 1964 to 1992 look as if they were years of prosperity is not merely an insult, it is adding salt to our wounds. But, fortunately, the Guyanese people are not fooled and, as they have done every time the opportunity presents itself, they would reject Mr Greenidge and others like him.

Mr Greenidge is blinded by his hate for the PPP/C government and by his unquenchable thirst for power wielded so mercilessly in the years of the PNC dictatorship. Let me remind Mr Greenidge, however, that truth cannot be changed and truth always walks through fire without being destroyed.

Here is an inconvenient truth that Mr Greenidge would like to change. The Guyanese people today live longer than ever in our history. In 1950, the life expectancy for a Guyanese citizen at birth was 47 years. This increased significantly to 60 by 1964, a gain of 13 years. The increase in life expectancy achieved in the 1950s and up to 1964 stagnated afterwards and in 1970, the life expectancy was still 60. In 1990, life expectancy had remained at 60. Sadly, Guyana made no gains in life expectancy for the period 1964 to 1992 when the PNC was in power. Guyana’s life expectancy now stands at 70 years, a gain of 10 years since 1992. The life expectancy of a country is usually an indication of a country’s economic and social progress. Even though we were among the Caribbean countries with the highest life expectancy in 1964, we were at the bottom of the life expectancy ranking by 1990, lagging between 10 and 14 years behind other Caribbean countries, outside of Haiti. But today, Guyana is proudly catching up with the rest of the Caribbean and we have a life expectancy similar to many of the Caricom countries with a gap of only between 2 and 5 years compared to the highest ranking countries. Our people are living longer and Mr Greenidge could indulge in intellectual dishonesty and foolishness all he wants – the people know the truth, a very inconvenient truth for Mr Greenidge indeed.

Here are some further very inconvenient truths for Mr Greenidge: Guyana’s economy shrank between 1964 and 1992, was smaller in 1992 than it was in 1964 and we were the only country in the Caribbean with a zero or negative growth for that period. Whether we use the government’s own figures or the IMF’s or the World Bank’s, everyone agrees that between 1964 and 1992, Guyana’s economy overall shrunk and our GDP in 1992 was smaller than it was in 1970 or in 1964. Guyana’s GDP in 1964 was over US$300 per capita compared to about US$250 in 1992. Between 1992 and 2010, Guyana’s economy grew from US$250 per capita in 1992 to over US$2,500 per capita in 2010 and Guyana, which was classified as a least developed bankrupt country in 1992 is today classified as a middle income country. The really inconvenient truth for Mr Greenidge is that between 1964 and 1992, the GDP grew in Barbados by 1,100%, Trinidad 400%, Jamaica 260% and Haiti 400%, but Guyana experienced zero growth. Indeed, the embarrassingly inconvenient truth for Mr Greenidge is that whiles he was in charge of the Ministry of Finance, Guyana experienced the most dramatic reduction of our GDP, with negative growth rates virtually every year until 1991. These inconvenient truths maybe humiliating, but cannot be changed, no matter how strenuous the efforts to rewrite history or distort the facts.

Mr Greenidge may not want to face the facts, but the inconvenient truth for him is that under his stewardship, Guyana suffered the most dramatic and unbelievable depreciation of our currency and the most dramatic reduction in real wages. For example, the Guyana currency which stood at $3 to US$1 in 1985 was $125 to US$1 in 1992, unbelievably more than a 3,000 per cent depreciation during his time. Real wages during this time were reduced and in 1992, real wages (in US$) for public servants was lower than they were in 1964. It’s a legacy Mr Greenidge and the PNC want to evade, an inconvenient truth.

It was in his tenure as Finance Minister that the most dramatic increases in our debt burden occurred. Yet Mr Greenidge shamefully attempted to blame the debt burden on the 1957-1964 PPP government. But in 1964, Guyana’s debt stood at US$60M or US$89 per capita and this loan was mostly through the British government. Recall that during that period, Guyana’s economy was largely still in the hands of the UK government. The PPP government of that time could not have negotiated any loan on its own. In 1985, under the PNC, the loan ballooned to US$1.5B and this rose to a walloping US$2.1B or US$2,785 per capita, with Mr Greenidge as the Minister of Finance. It was absolutely disgraceful that by 1992 Guyana’s debt was 750% of our GDP. The inconvenient truth for Mr Greenidge is that today the external debt to GDP is less than 40%, among the best in the Caribbean.

Mr Greenidge shamelessly wrote about the Demerara Harbour Bridge and the Essequibo Coast Road, which he claimed they gave to Guyana and these are still standing. Such brazen efforts to re-write history will not work because the travesty of the Demerara Harbour Bridge and the Essequibo Coast Road are still fresh in people’s memory. While it is true Guyanese are resilient and forgiving and we have a propensity to move on, we do not really have a short memory. What the PNC left us with is a Demerara Harbour Bridge which was in a state of collapse in 1992. It was down and parts floated away frequently. We preserved this bridge through extensive rehabilitation and maintenance work and the investment of hundreds of millions of dollars, enabling it to still be standing.

They spent a fortune to build a bridge that by 1992 had become a national disgrace. The inconvenient truth for Mr Greenidge is that we rescued the Demerara Harbour Bridge and have been keeping it standing many years beyond its useful life.

It is sheer hypocrisy and it is a blatant lie to claim they left us the Essequibo Coast Road. The inconvenient truth is that there is today an Essequibo Coast Road and it is standing. But in 1992, the Essequibo Coast Road was being called the ‘abortion‘ road. It was not merely a road with many potholes, the road had virtually disappeared. The PPP/C government has completely re-constructed the Essequibo Coast Road. What stand on the Essequibo Coast today is a glorious reminder to the people of the Essequibo Coast and Guyana the difference between the PPP/C and the PNC. The PPP/C has a legacy of building, of making lives better and allowing people to live with dignity; the PNC has a legacy of destruction, bringing enormous pain to the lives of people and depriving people of their dignity.

Yours faithfully,
Leslie Ramsammy
Minister of Health

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