‘Not getting to the poorest’

As this column has noted before, it was the dreaded Cardinal Richelieu who claimed, ‘If you give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest of men, I will find something in them which will hang him.’ In an extensive interview in the Guyana Review (SN: 02/10/2018), President David Granger and his interlocutor gave us many more lines, and, therefore, perhaps it should not be surprising that if some commentators are to be believed, both parties are destined for the gallows! After all, what are we to make of the interviewer’s assertion, ‘Excellency, it occurs to me that you are now the leading presidential expert on coalition governments; I do not think anybody comes close to you in terms of managing coalition governments in Guyana’? This, after the autocratic instincts of the president and his party have successfully wrecked even the miniscule chance the Alliance For Change (AFC) had of becoming an authentic national partner in the nation’s long but elusive quest for national unity. In any case, although confronted by a more principled and formidable foe, did Forbes Burnham not succeed in doing a similar wrecking job?

Requested to give two or three objectives that his government is determined to achieve within its current five-year term, the president said that he would like to see the elimination of extreme poverty and a reduction of inequality. With only about two years remaining of his term, the president agreed that he was being somewhat over ambitious and proceeded to plug his various programmes that provide transportation to help children to get to school as being at the core of his vision of ending poverty. ‘I feel we need to move the entire population out of poverty and although people do not pay much attention to it, one of the first things I did from 2015 is to provide boats to enable children to go to school and provide buses for children to go to school; to provide bicycles for children to go to school. Most of my critics do not talk about these things. They regard it as some side show.’ The emphasis on ending poverty and the above interventions are indeed admirable, but the latter could hardly be considered much more than a side shows in any policy that intends ‘to move the entire population out of poverty’.

The first of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), adopted in 2015, implore states to ‘eradicate extreme poverty for all people everywhere …[and to] create sound policy frameworks at the national, regional and international levels, based on pro-poor and gender-sensitive development strategies, to support accelerated investment in poverty eradication actions’ by 2030. The latter is fundamental to achieving the former and, so far as I am aware, the government is yet to establish and properly communicate a comprehensive antipoverty strategy. However, it appears to me that two recent interventions that would more substantially clothe the regime’s anti-poverty ambitions raise a core issue. ….