In this season of sharing and goodwill, it is meet to reflect on the APNU+AFC government’s allocation of the country’s resources particularly at a time when large swathes of the sugar community are suffering the dread of displacement and great uncertainty. At a macro level, the 2018 budget will reveal the quantum assigned to the various regions. It won’t however provide a graphic picture of how the government is distributing the country’s resources at the micro level and whether it is doing so in a manner devoid of political favouritism.
Make no mistake about it, winning political power at the 2020 general elections is uppermost in the minds of the government and the opposition and the real needs of the ordinary person will provide a broad canvas for political prospecting. Evenness and fairness must be the watchwords. Judicious and sensible stewardship of the country’s assets are also vital if benefits to the ordinary person are to be maximized. The challenge to the APNU+AFC government is stark in this respect. Nowhere is this clearer than in the leader of yesterday’s Sunday Stabroek where the an IMF team has identified the generous deal that ExxonMobil secured from Guyana for oil extraction and the loopholes that exist in the agreement for abuse.
Earlier this month, President Granger visited the village of Ykinipa nestled on the Akawini Creek in Region Two (Pomeroon/Supenaam). The visit was two-fold: spread Christmas cheer to the residents of riverain communities and commission a $21m stelling. The stelling was seen as critical to the community. President Granger was reported by the Ministry of the Presidency as stating “When I first came to this community and walked on that bridge, I said that this is very dangerous and that no resident deserves to access their community in this manner so I am very happy to see this. I am here because of you. I will be faithful to you. There are 215 villages but as far as possible, we will consider all of your requests and try our best to honour them”.
It is highly commendable that the President from his own experiences is discerning dire needs of communities and attending to them. The people of Ykinipa must also be congratulated for their advocacy. As vital as the visits are to evaluate the needs of the deserving communities this must be done in a more structured manner to ensure fairness in distribution of the available resources.
Given the closeness of the 2015 general election both sides will be lobbying valiantly for swing voters and special interest groups. There is no doubt that the government will heavily target Amerindian communities particularly those that show signs of political organising in a way that could translate into vote gathering. All power to them though they must be on the lookout for the paternalistic and patronising behaviour that has limited the prospects for real gains for their communities.
During what was ultimately a failed attempt at political dialogue and healing the divide in the country following the 2001 general elections, former President Jagdeo and late opposition leader Hoyte had embarked on a more structured manner to identify deprived communities and to analyse what was needed to bring significant improvements to the lives of those who resided there. Each side nominated communities in grave need of infrastructure and services and after a list was agreed the government set about trying to engineer the improvements. Bureaucratic impediments did get in the way of projects such as electricity supply at De Kinderen on the West Demerara and projects were left undone when the framework for the talks frayed and dialogue was broken off.
The process that was initiated by the two leaders was however valuable as it represented a genuine, bipartisan attempt to bridge the gulf in the country by selecting communities deemed to be representative of their supporters.
There are definitely pockets of great impoverishment and infrastructural need throughout the country. Now that deliberations on budget 2018 are over perhaps the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Social Services can be entrusted with the mandate for bipartisan discussions on which communities have dire needs and how these can be met from the discretionary resources that are available. Such an initiative could be entrenched both as a matter of developing a list of the severest needs and more so, the reflection of an actual example of bipartisanship working within the parliamentary framework on what would undoubtedly be a very important task.
As the year draws to a close and the upheaval in the sugar industry is manifested in the four thousand redundancy letters dispatched by GuySuCo, questions have been raised about the whereabouts of the government’s compassion on this matter in this season of goodwill and sharing. The government is absent from these communities. Having comprehensively failed to restructure the industry in a manner that would minimise dislocation, the government has now become invisible while communities like Wales, Enmore, Skeldon and Rose Hall seethe in pain, anger and frustration.
Where is the Minister with responsibility for `social cohesion’, Dr Norton? Where is the Minister of Social Protection, Ms Ally? Where is the Minister of Agriculture, Mr Holder? Where is the Prime Minister who has long claimed close affinity to these communities both as a politician in the PPP/C and the AFC and now as the number two figure in the government? Where indeed is President Granger?
At the very least, these communities need to be provided with comfort and relief. The more intensive process of mapping their needs in the new year and the fact that thousands of people have lost their ability to earn income must be addressed. This should again be a bipartisan effort and again involving the Parliamentary Committee on Social Services.
President Granger cannot stand apart and aloof from the woes that have gripped the sugar belt. To do so would fuel the unfortunate narrative that his government is less concerned about the constituencies which have been traditionally close to the opposition.
While he was at Ykinipa commissioning the stelling, President Granger made an important declaration.
He said “I am President of all Guyana. I know what you need and as long as God gives me the strength, I will ensure that I deliver what you need. Every Guyanese must have access to public services. I don’t believe in bush. I believe in people and whether you are living in Akawini or Orealla or Kwakwani, you deserve access to public services. As far as President Granger is concerned, I treat all citizens equal”.
The President’s commitment to the entire country is laudable and nowhere is the need for attention more pressing than in the sugar communities which have been callously hit by thousands of layoffs.