THE People’s National Congress (PNC) Government is pressing opposition forces to come up with a viable alternative to the Economic Recovery Programme (ERP).
In a televised debate on the McIntyre Report arranged by the Visual Productions Centre of the Guyana Public Communications Agency (GPCA), the opposition was repeatedly questioned as to an ERP alternative.
The government team comprised Deputy Prime Minister Planning and Development Haslyn Parris and Minister of Trade and Tourism Winston Murray while the opposition was represented by People’s Progressive Party leader, Dr. Cheddi Jagan and Parliamentarian Reepu Daman Persaud. The moderator was Stabroek News Editor-in-Chief, David de Caires
In opening remarks, Parris maintained that the McIntyre Report endorsed the prime strategies behind the ERP such as foreign investment and divestment. He accused the opposition of being against or ambivalent towards the divestment issue.
He said that under PPP rule Guyana was the second most prosperous nation in the Caribbean but under PNC control the country was now the poorest in the hemisphere. He argued that the PNC government was characterised by “squandermania, mismanagement and incompetence” and emphasised that there will be no economic recovery without public support.
Murray counter-attacked by saying opposition disapproval of the ERP was no alternative. He wondered how people would support a party without a tangible economic policy.
Persaud rebutted saying the clear alternative after such a devastating report was that the government resign. He reinforced the opposition position saying that free and fair elections was a fundamental issue. He charged that current production of rice, sugar and bauxite is less than that in 1963 as a result of PNC misrule. He described the McIntyre Report as a post mortem on the PNC administration, “but post mortem has never brought back the dead.”
Despite some effort at steering by the moderator much of the debate was spent in political polemics and issues of supply side constraints, SIMAP and debt management dealt with by the report were not dealt with.
Minister Winston Murray pointed out that government’s ERP seeks to diversify the economy through the formation of “strategic alliances with people who have the money and the knowhow.” He said that capital inflows as underlined in the Mc Intyre report were crucial to the recovery of the economy. He said that USS40-M were committed to the government in 1989 and US$27M have already been disbursed for essentials such as fuel to keep production going.
Both Dr. Jagan and Mr. Persaud denied that they were opposed to foreign investment. They suggested that care had to be taken in soliciting aid and using it. “If money was the answer, this country would have been heaven…paradise,” countered Jagan, referring to the large inflows that have entered this country since the 70s. Persaud remarked that regardless of the amount of investment there will be no impact unless there is commensurate production. This production, he said, can only materialise if there is democracy in this country.
Persaud opined that expatriate Guyanese could be a lucrative source of hard currency. However, he said guarantees will have to be given by the government on democracy and the security of such money.
On the subject of government’s impending divestment of the Guyana Rice Milling and Marketing Authority (GRMMA) there was acrimonious debate. Jagan claimed that divestment of GRMMA would not give the ordinary rice farmer control over the essential aspects of the industry. Small farmers, he said, could not afford to purchase any of the assets. Moreover, said Jagan, big business concerns could end up with huge chunks of the assets shutting out the small farmers.
DPM Parris retorted that the PPP did not understand the mechanics of the divestment. He said the government recently brought in an American consultant to determine how farmers could participate in the purchase of GRMMA’s assets.
He said that farmers will be able to own the mills jointly and access markets in the same fashion. He also said that farmers would not necessarily have to find the money, “upfront” to purchase GRMMA’s assets but could do so when their use generated money.
In wrapping up, Persaud enquired as to how the government expected its programmes to be successful when in 25 years they have accomplished nothing but failure.
Murray attacked the opposition for not presenting an alternative to the ERP and said these parties were only concerned with elections and democracy.
Dr. Jagan said economic development was important but so too was politics. He said the ERP has failed in its first year and predicted it wouldn’t succeed. He claimed that the government has but 10 per cent of the populace behind it and has no mandate to negotiate with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Parris said that a clear policy is needed to facilitate economic recovery. He asserted, that if the opposition was to come to power they too would need an economic strategy to deal with the existing problems.
Twelve Guyanese-Trained Medical Students To Begin Internship
FOLLOWING four years of schooling under very difficult conditions at the University of Guyana, twelve medical students are to begin assisting doctors at the Georgetown hospital on March 19 next.
These are the successful students out of a class of twenty which completed the Medical Practitioners Programme at the University of Guyana this year.
The students will be at the Georgetown Hospital for the first year of a two-year internship which will complete their training as professional doctors, the first to be locally trained.
They are then to move into outlying district hospitals for the second year. But this second year, like many other parts of the ambitious government programme to train doctors here after four years is still in the planning stages, official sources say. “This second year of the internship is still being worked out.” When the programme started in 1986, over forty students enrolled but many dropped out as it continued.
One student who completed the four years said training here as a medical man has been “nerve-racking.”
Among issues the student raised was that students had to float about the university from classroom to classroom, as the medical programme does not have a fixed building or classroom. “It was tiresome to move from place to place. We often used the room which was available at the time of our class.”
Lack of adequate texts and medical equipment sank students’ spirits further. The medical school is funded under a government of Guyana/Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) funding agreement. The funds come through the Guyana Agency for Health Sciences Education and Food Policy (GAHEF) which receives no money directly from the State. GAHEF funds lecturers’ fees and purchase of equipment.
But the problem with the medical school seems to be on the administrative side, which the University handles. For example, a building is available for the medical school but this has never, for an unknown reason, been used after four years of the programme.
Asked about this the source said that “millions of dollars are needed for a perfect programme.” But the student countered with “why would you set up an institution when you cannot finance or manage it well? People’s careers are involved here.”
These students will have to do the two- year internship in deteriorating hospital conditions but the official noted: “The internship will see the students taking on more responsibility but they will be supervised by the doctors. And they will be paid a ‘stipend’ “.
The source did not want to disclose the amount of the ‘stipend’, but noted it will be the standard internship stipend. The Public Service Ministry will pay this but “it has not been worked out as yet.”
“As a matter of fact, the entire medical programme is going through a review and the authorities want to formulate and ‘regularise’ the school’s operations.” The “formulation” of the internship programme, which is scheduled to start Monday, is now in progress.
Meanwhile, students who completed the four-year course will receive a University of Guyana “certificate” and will be endowed with their MBBS degrees only after the internship period.
The curriculum of the programme seems to be sound with international lecturers from the University of the West Indies, Howard University, the University of Ottawa and the Anton De Kom University of Suriname contracted for the programme.
Contracted too are well-known local medical veterans Dr. Leslie Mootoo, Dr. Balwant Singh Snr., Dr. Hughley Hanoman and Dr. Rabindranauth Singh.
Concerning the, credibility of the UG medical degree, the source said that that would depend on the performance of these twelve students; “Their professional approach will reflect how professionally they were trained.”
These twelve pioneers in the medical profession here were scheduled to be introduced to the Georgetown Hospital staff last night. Prime Minister Hamilton Green was to address them.