The links are still missing

Unemployment and poor infrastructure are two of the recurring themes in our Sunday feature, the World Beyond Georgetown. For well over a decade, reporters and photographers have been visiting communities—some well-known to the general population, some they might never have heard of before—and speaking to residents about their daily lives. Often, the older folk eagerly compare their current lives to what obtained when they were younger or at the time they would have migrated to the particular village, for whatever reason.

In every instance improvements are noted. The areas would have moved from there being no electricity, no potable water, no telephone and no roads to having these in place, though not at the level or quality the residents or anyone else would expect in this century. Just like everywhere else in the country, the supply of electricity, unless it is self-generated, is unstable. Residents would be cognisant that water has to be stored in the ubiquitous black tanks or other containers, because water supply is affected by power outages. Land line telephone service is usually the least available of the three utilities. In the communities where it is present, only some residents benefit. But that is really not surprising when one considers that even in the city where accessibility is not an issue, there are still persons who have been waiting years for telephone service. Cellular service has saved many communities from being completely cut off, but it is still not available everywhere and in some places, possibly because of the terrain, the quality is not optimal.

As bad as these three utilities are, the issues with roads are more problematic by far. In some cases, they were poorly constructed to begin with and therefore they will need constant fixing, more than they should if they were done correctly to begin with. In several places, residents are yet to benefit from anything that could in all actuality be called roads. The loam and sand structures which sink or collapse during the rainy season or erode into the drainage canals alongside them in the dry, were possibly intended to be temporary, but continue to exist. These roads, like the mud dams that extend into the backlands of villages where large-scale farming is carried out, often make it difficult, if not impossible, for produce to reach markets. 

But these are far from the worst of what affects the residents of many rural communities. Lack of proper drainage and the impact this has on persons’ lives and livelihoods are not only lamented, but visible. Drainage canals choked with overgrown vegetation abound and the flooding caused during the wet season serves to make farming just that much more difficult.

Then there are villages where unemployment is rife. These include but are not limited to the areas where sugar estates were closed in the recent past. Interviewees often speak of young people in their communities who would have completed their schooling but were unable to find jobs and therefore either left for ‘greener pastures’ both in and out the country. There are others who remain but are unable to tap their true potential and sometimes succumb to idleness and the lure of alcohol and drugs. There is an obvious link between unemployment and poorly maintained village infrastructure, it simply is not being made – or at least not in the correct way.

Then there are the village and local authorities that receive government subventions as well as collect rates from residents, which they are supposed to use to maintain infrastructure and perform other tasks such as garbage collection. In some instances, they are also mandated to carry out capital projects. However, in reports from the Public Accounts Committee which oversees the expenditure of public funds, obvious dysfunction by these councils is invariable. What is highlighted is that they are either unable to or incapable of spending the annual funds that have been allocated to them in a timely manner. Frequently too, there are signs that they would have abused the process by which said funding is to be used and are called to explain what appears to be corruption, nepotism or fraud. These councils are led by elected officials, who, despite all that has been mentioned before, continue to be re-elected. Again, no one is making the very obvious link.

In some communities there are empty houses—in some places more than others—that speak to entire families leaving. It is not just that they have left, because people have the right to pull up roots when they choose to, but that they have been unable to rent or sell their properties, or find a willing caretaker and are forced to just close them up and go. Many have fallen into ruin, while others have become havens for the unscrupulous and their nefarious activities, affecting their neighbours. Is there a link between crumbling infrastructure and the concomitant loss of capital and migration? Of course there is. It is just not being addressed.

This is by no means a suggestion that migration would not occur if there was proper attention being paid to infrastructure and the farmers in these communities beyond Georgetown could count on their capital output returning prosperity. Is it possible that it may not be on the levels being experienced? Maybe. But it is unlikely that we will ever know for sure.