It is all about the building blocks to financial security within the African community

Dear Editor,

I think my last letter, ‘The African Guyanese community has to find a way to develop strong financial independence,’ (SN, April 8) was taken well and I hope soon to see some traction on my suggestions. But there were two exchanges in the comments section of the SN website.

Saving and education are preached day in and day out. “Go to school boy, get educated, try not to end up like me,” is preached all the time. But, we cannot save our way out of poverty or to prosperity. Education may bring us some respectability but not necessarily financial security.

For instance, let’s say you have the highest paying job in the private/public sector in Guyana. After studying and getting your doctorates, etc, you get to that position at 35. You work to 55 and are forced to retire. What kind of saving do you think you have to make to carry you to age 75 and beyond? With inflation to contend with how much pension would you need to back you up?

I have a real example. I have relative who is a Professor and lectures in economics at a university here in the US. We had a discussion one time. First, given his line of study, I asked him what kind of paper investments he has. Beyond his 401K, he had none. He was so embarrassed, he revealed some interesting facts.

He shook his head and told me, two friends left Guyana together – he and another person. One became a professor and the other got rich. He revealed that even with a professor’s job, he will struggle to live off his pension when he retires.

One blogger asked about the informal economy and the so-called wealth creators of the present who are dominating the scene and mixing with the formal economy? Let me say up front that the informal economy is run by persons who have mostly created wealth over the years by traditional methods. Like the stock market, I want to bet that all their money is not in that one basket.  It must be realized that the so called informal economy is a relatively new fad to those who exploit it today. Don’t forget, African Guyanese were into that line of business, small time, long before the new breed of investors.

I have an uncle from Berbice, who tells a lot of stories. Two men, neighbours in the same village. Both families poor alike. Both did apprenticeship and got work at the sugar estate and moved up the ladder together. Both got Sugar Welfare Fund assistance and built houses next to each other in the scheme. Twenty years later, with both persons still moving up the job ladder together, one built his house bigger and purchased two motor cars for his sons to do a hire-car business while in the case of the other house the windows and stairs are falling down.

What was happening over the period of twenty years? One house had no furniture. The other changed furniture and household furnishings about four times.  The family dressed in the latest style. Three o’clock Sunday morning one man and wife return home half-drunk from a big dance on the public road and find their neighbours with cast-net, catching fish in the trench in front of their house. Now that the big house going up and the people driving car, the cuss-out start.

We see it all around us yet we ask how did they do that? Check out this Demerara Waves article of March 25, 2012: ‘Foreman’s building making way for family-owned business.’

“According to well-known criminal lawyer, Vic Puran… other blood descendants of the Jaipauls of Number 69 Village, Corentyne, Berbice have pooled US$50,000 each to build a multipurpose complex that will house a call centre, low-cost restaurant, juice factory and an eco-tourism office. ‘If one generation sacrifices, the rest who follow would be on smooth sailing,’ Puran said, clad in short pants and short-sleeved shirt at the worksite. When completed, revenue generated from all of the businesses will be ploughed into a private investment bank for descendants of his grandmother and grandfather to borrow interest-free loans for study and business, purely on the basis of trust. ‘Even though thirty persons are involved in that project, the transport is only in the name of two because we are beginning from the position that this is a matter of trust,’ says Puran who has a thriving legal practice.”

That concept of Puran is nothing new to me. I was in the logging industry, cannot raise money in Guyana to do the business the right way. I thought my US visa would have changed my fortune. As soon as I got here in 2001 I put Puran’s concept to friends and relatives, who had more than 20 years out here. “Let’s put some funds together and form a
conglomerate. I can make more money for you than you can work for here in the US.” Well I developed enemies. People think I don’t want to work. I want to steal their money. I’m still here. I had to get with the programme and forget my logging and duty free concessions that I had lined up at home.

This brings me to another point. In our community, every person is forced to experience the hardships of our parents. They work hard, so we have to work hard. Second, our offspring in most cases, do not take up their parents’ businesses.  But, take for instance the Jettoos. Father started a window business in Industry. Check how many of his sons and daughters are in the wood business.  Continuity. The Bulkans – the same thing. Their sister, a doctor in forestry studies.

When I left Guyana the only African family I noticed trying to get with this trend was the Muirs who had/have a lumberyard off High Street. The father gave it over to all his kids, but only one or two were involved in actually working the business. But they were at the time frustrated with those who wanted to collect from the business. Don’t know how it ended.

So when I talk about our parents not teaching us, it is about the building blocks to financial security and independence within our community. This is what we need to get our arms around. I hope this helps those who had questions.

Yours faithfully,
F Skinner

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