I have watched with a sense of profound foreboding over the last 27 months as the APNU+AFC coalition government has steadfastly and calculatedly terminated thousands of workers in the government sector.
Within eight weeks of being in office, one of its first acts was to dismiss 1,972 young Amerindian Community Service Officers by the Ministry of Indigenous Affairs. This has been the single largest ethnic group to have been dismissed from the government service by the new government. In fact, this is the single largest ethnic group to have been terminated since the mid-1980s when President’s Hoyte’s government reduced the size of the government sector and thousands of Afro-Guyanese lost their jobs.
The loss to Amerindian communities across the country by the termination of this large number of young people is enormous; it is estimated that $800M has been withdrawn from the village economies, and, 10,000 people directly dependent on these persons for their livelihood have been impoverished.
Rapidly following this was the creaming off of the top layer of the government service – the majority of the permanent secretaries, regional executive officers, chief executive officers, executive directors, and heads of department, were terminated, mainly Indo-Guyanese. Many of these have been replaced by persons serving with or retired from the military. Thus, the first stage of the militarization of the government service had begun.
In fact, while many more are still losing their jobs, the government has been filling the vacancies and creating many more positions at far higher salaries than those who have been fired. One thousand new contract workers were added to the public service as exposed during the February 2016 Budget debate, and another 1000 were found to be hired during the December 2016 debate on the 2017 Budget.
So blatant had this become that after a year of these terminations of so many people from government service, it became necessary for the government to get rid of the Chairman and member of the Public Service Commission, appointed through a parliamentary process and replace him. Thus the Public Service Commission, an independent constitutional body was now safely ensconced in the arms of the APNU+AFC government to now sanctify the discrimination. Up to September 1, 2017, the day that the Public Service Commission expired, and even after, senior and middle ranking public servants have received letters of demotion and termination, while simultaneously there has been a rush of appointments of a large number of persons. One has witnessed a number of persons appointed who do not have the requisite qualifications as well as the supersession of qualified staff by juniors with little or no qualifications for these senior positions.
The establishment of the new Public Service Staff College which is headed by and managed by party activists and military men confirms many people’s views that there will be no fairness in employment, promotion, scholarships, training opportunities, etc, based on merit.
A large number of young people in the government have lost their jobs, the majority are between the ages of 25-40 years of age; one quarter of these are professionals with degrees and post-graduate degrees, and a large number are of Amerindian and Indo-Guyanese descent. Their feeling of loss, disappointment and displacement in the country of their birth is agonizing. They could have gone elsewhere to work but they decided to stay and work in their country. Their feeling of no longer belonging in Guyana is heartbreaking. For those who can leave, they are doing so and snapping up jobs in the Caribbean and further afield. Hence the upsurge in emigration from our shores.
Having degutted the government service of institutional memory and knowledge as well as skilled technical and managerial capacity, the government has found that it is incapable of implementing the Public Sector Investment Programme (PSIP) as admitted by the Minister of Finance with less than 35 % expenditure by mid-year. However, the government is quick to pull out its standard bogeyman, the PPPC, for not cooperating as the reason for their abysmal performance.
The cost to the country is irreplaceable. It will take over a decade to develop and replace the loss of these skilled government servants. After all, we are only a country of 747,000. Oil will not save us here. For those who are old enough, the last time Guyanese saw such levels of removals from the government service was during the post 1985-1990 period when the IMF Economic Recovery Programme to bring Guyana back to creditworthiness demanded the reduction of the public sector from 40,000 to 28,000.
Gail Teixeira, MP