That Sunday morning market basket

“I go to the market every Sunday; I know what it takes for a family of four or five to put food on the table, to put shelter and so forth. The average public servant, what they make would be very sufficient to put the basic and enable them to acquire some of the material goods every family wants.” So said Manzoor Nadir MP and former Minister of Labour, Human Services and Social Security on Monday last at a press conference hosted by the ruling PPP at Freedom House.

Mr Nadir was seeking to make the argument that the lot of public servants has improved under the PPP, which has been in power since 1992. He posited that the ‘average’ public servant earns above the government set minimum wage which is $35,000 and is able to meet his/her basic needs.

However, this servant of the people, who can by no means be described as average, did not provide the necessary comparison between what goes into his Sunday morning market basket and that of the ‘average’ public servant. Nor did he provide any comparison between his monthly earnings and that of the ‘average’ public servant—although he was asked the question—which gave his statement the consistency of cotton candy; lots of fluff, no substance and cloying sweetness wrapped in hot air. Incidentally, cotton candy also has a bitter aftertaste.

Had Mr Nadir deigned to speak to any of the ‘average’ shoppers buying greens alongside him on Sunday mornings, he might have learned a few things that could have better informed his utterances. For instance, persons spend between $2,500 and $4,000 per week purchasing perishables (excluding meat or fish) at the market for a family of four—two adults and two children—and this by no means covers every day’s meals.

In response to a casual enquiry, this newspaper was told that the ‘average’ family of 6 or 8 would have the same limit on weekly fruits and greens purchases, but would use more rice, which ultimately would impact on the health of family members as it signals a poor diet. But perhaps the long-term health of the ‘average’ person is no longer a concern of Mr Nadir, as he has ceased to hold the Labour Ministry portfolio.

Simple arithmetic, however, points to the lack of credence in Mr Nadir’s statement and displays how out of touch he is with the reality of the struggle of the ‘average’ public servant who has a family. Fruit and vegetable purchases add up to between $10,000 ($12,500) – $16,000 ($18,500) per month. To this one must add: other groceries (rice, meat, etc) – $20,000 to $30,000; rent/mortgage – $20,000 to $60,000; public transportation – $10,000 to $20,000 or car loan and gas – $40,000 to $50,000. We can stop here without adding other expenses such as electricity, water and telephone bills and fuel for cooking. Because already the ‘average’ public servant who has a family must be earning between $60,000 to over $100,000 (take home) to be able to meet these needs.

Mr Nadir’s “Sunday morning market” statement is also unfortunate as it ignores an entire sector of people who are not government workers and whose earnings are below the minimum wage. While the question that was raised at the press briefing had to do with the government’s now annual arbitrary 5% increase that is meted out to public servants across the board every December, the former minister, in his haste to defend, ignored pensioners and such low-income workers as domestic servants, security guards, shop clerks and others. Incidentally many of these people, as well as ‘average’ public servants, are single parents subsisting on a single income and fortunately in some cases with supplementary funds coming via remittances from relatives and friends overseas.

A smoother response from the ‘average’ politician would have been one where government’s social services and public assistance offerings, meagre as they are, were cited – the uniform vouchers, free text books, school meals and so on. And rather than claim the absolute: that public servants are able to meet their basic needs; the ‘average’ politician might have pointed to ways in which the government was still trying to improve the livelihoods of Guyana’s poorer citizens. Although the country is on record as having eradicated extreme poverty, there are scores of citizens, perhaps hundreds, who remain under the radar and still live in abject poverty.

But then Mr Nadir is not the ‘average’ politician; he is simply one of a breed of puffed-up seat-heaters in Parliament.

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