Guyanese have a saying that is part funny, part serious: “hole out fuh price.” Well, at the rate things are going, they won’t have to hold out too long. There is one problem: I have a little bad news to report: the price (prices) is not coming their way, but advancing pitilessly in the other direction -upward.
The first salvo in this continuing reckoning of mine in relation to the war on consumers is about cooking gas. This staple (it now is) of Guyanese existence burns more than already expensive food ingredients; it is burning up a lot of scarce cash, as well as a hole in the pocket. The pocket was never deep, and the holes are multiplying in width, too. They threaten to spread to some embarrassing places with the spectre of financial nakedness looming. All are invited to take a look (the struggling poor will): in a short span, cooking gas has inched-galloped, really-from around $3200 to $3300 to now approximately $3600 for one of those precious little cylinders. Overall, that is a cool 12 percent spike. For the cash-strapped, it is not so cool by any means, and is a real nail in the economic anatomy. Pick a spot for that remorseless nail; just make sure it is sensitive, extremely so.
Speaking for myself only, one more upward movement and it is back to the fireside for me. It is going to have to be the full flame: just firewood, since kerosene is out of reach. Moving from the fireside to the roadside, it is the usual Guyanese bedlam; a real public hospital it is out there, and it is not the Bethlehem of London notoriety. On this occasion, the bedlam is of a pricing kind with minibuses leading the charge. They always seem to do, don’t they? Gas price is up; so the fare should go up. Truth be told, the fares have indeed gone up; I can so attest, as represented by an agent. One of the fine gentlemen with whom I do occasional business raised his prices. His reason was gas prices. Sez who? Since when? Then again, what is a little “fine change” between friends doing some runnins…. I encourage my fellow sufferers to attach a purely literal (physical) meaning to that word, and not to interpret it in the traditional Guyanese manner. I could never live that down.
Meanwhile, there has been little to no talk of spare parts prices or that costly extra: the right to work-ply the roads-unpoliced. Of course, it is a particular manner of policing that is expensive, and which adds up to the cost of doing business. That is, driving uninterruptedly. It ought to be observed that in all of this talk of charges going up (gas, road usage and so forth), the hapless consumer is going down. For many it is simply one more hard, unnerving landing.
On the other hand, the local venture capitalists, aka vulture capitalists and the clever money people could care less. They shrug; price increases are no bother, might even be fun, since there is more room to frolic. Think increasing foreign exchange rate manipulation involving that prized US dollar benchmark. As to be expected, while pain is inflicted upon others, there are all these tears and wails of economic stringencies. Translation: biznis baad!
While all of this is unfolding, the part-time shopper in me was groping around for some much-needed relief. The thinking of many was that catfish species would be cheaper, now that the heartless Americans had imposed a ban on local exports. Think again friends, fellow fish eaters, and countryfolks. Lo and behold, the prices of those banned (expensive) names have not budged; so much for the forces of demand and supply. Something smells fishy here, as in smuggling, except that it can’t be to Surinam (like gold) given all those shark infested waters, meaning pirates. Then again, it could be that there is painting over those golden gilbacka carcasses in silver so they pass for snapper. Guyanese have a long storied history of creativity.
Moreover, there are reports that prices of drugs (legitimate ones) have gone up. As I write, some stuff just arrived at the doorstep: the price of Smalta is up a couple of hundred dollars per case, or about seven percent; pipe water it is going to have to be. Also, I am paying close attention to bread and rice; eddo leaves from the pond beckons. Incidentally, I am watching (very critically) Stabroek News and Kaieteur News to note any signals of approaching price restructuring. Rephrased in Guyanese English -more money, less content, local or otherwise. I sense a hangover coming. How about Guyana sunrise? Or El Dorado bitters specially cured? The mere thought brings an unpalatable swallow. Price ceiling anyone? To the critics and free market purists, I say that the empty-handed man-in-the-street and the distraught housewife in the barren home need a roof under which to shelter. Price ceiling it may have to be.