This is one of GHK’s many letters I really enjoy. Good context, perspective and contrast with US Congressmen. And it gives definition to the philosophy of the ruling party in government (‘$500,000 housing allowance is too much’ SN, June 29).
US per capita income is US$55,000, and the housing allowance for Congressmen is US$2,500 monthly. Guyana’s per capita income is very much lower, and the maximum housing allowance for out-of-town parliamentarians is US$2,500 ($500,000) monthly. Something is terribly wrong with this comparison. Can Guyana afford such luxurious and expensive housing for its parliamentarians? Of course not. But it is taking money from the poor and giving it to the new privileged and political class now in power. It is an attack on the sensibilities of all working people – nurses, policemen, civil servants, peasant farmers, civil servants – because these folks can barely afford $50,000 rental housing on their average monthly salary.
GHK calls it the “feathering of one’s nest”. Very apt.
Under colonial rule, the rulers were a conspicuous class apart from the workers with special gated housing, chauffeur-driven cars, maids, gardeners, huge salaries and allowances. And, the workers were conditioned to accept that. When the rulers drove out to the villages in style, we gave everything we have ‒ cooked special dishes and when they are ready to leave we loaded up their car trunks with water-coconuts and produce from the farm. We were conditioned to think we would get special boons from the ‘sahib’ ruling class.
Those ideas of paying for and maintaining the rulers as a privileged class are coming back. Recall the 50% pay-raise for all ministers soon after they were ensconced in power and the workers were appeased with a few crumbs, 5 per cent.
Don’t think I am knocking the ruling PNC only (I say PNC, because for all practical purposes, the AFC has been totally and completely emasculated). I hasten to say the previous PPP government did the same thing; they rode bicycles before they took the reins of power, and by the time they were removed from power they were wealthy. Look at Mr Jagdeo’s seaside mansion and his pension benefits package. And, to one-up the PPP, the coalition government legislated a comparable pension package to cover retroactively long retired Prime Minister Hamilton Greene. It was an obscenity to use the national treasury for self-aggrandizement. Today’s ruling PNC is trying to prove one thing: they can outdo the PPP.
Here is my caution: With the coming oil-wealth, Guyanese should be on their guard lest there is any emulation of Nigeria and Equatorial Guinea. We need a new political class in Guyana who will bring compassion, respect and equity to the working classes and poor.