WPA notes the flurry of responses in the media to its proposal to use part of Guyana’s imminent oil revenues as cash transfers to households. While we welcome the public commentary, we are somewhat disappointed that there has not been any attempt at serious discussion of the proposal. Very few of the responses have sought to discuss its merits and demerits within the context and in the spirit in which it was made. To the contrary, most of them have come in the form of unrelated criticisms of the WPA and attacks on the ability and capacity of average Guyanese to manage money. WPA calls for an informed, rational and serious discussion on what is to be done with the expected oil revenues. Such a discussion should involve Guyanese in their communities and at their workplaces and should be grounded in a desire to lift the standard of living of all, but most importantly the poor and the powerless.
WPA is the least bothered about criticisms of and attacks on the party—that is to be expected in a political culture that privileges invective over reason. This will not be the last instance of the messenger being assassinated as a substitute for informed debate and discussion. In his haste to attack the WPA, one government minister went as far as denigrating “intellectuals” and “bright people” at a moment when the president is urging the youth to go to school and in a week when the country welcomes the CSEC and CAPE exam results.
WPA takes this opportunity to reiterate its commitment to an educated citizenry and feels honoured to be a party that is an example of and an inspiration for intellectualism and education excellence. Our party has never been in the business of hiring ghost-writers to craft our releases and letters to the press. Any statement appearing over the name of the WPA or its leaders comes from self- generated ideas and written by the authors themselves. We know who the ghost-writers are, and we urge them to stop hiding behind the gullible and come out into the open in their own image and name.
The same minister launched an attack on WPA co-leaders, Drs Roopnaraine and Thomas and in the process sought to hold the WPA responsible for what he sees as the shortcomings of the government. He joins PPP leader, Bharrat Jagdeo, in labelling the cash-transfer proposal a gimmick aimed at getting votes. We wonder which party or coalition of parties he thinks will benefit from this so-called gimmick. If you have nothing fit and proper to say, then say nothing.
WPA will resist the temptation to pronounce on that minster’s performance in his portfolio for fear of being unable to find anything substantive to evaluate. But for now, we wish to express our unswerving support for the way Roopnaraine and Thomas have discharged their duties in pursuit of implementing government policy in the areas of state which fall under their watch. While our leaders are not beyond criticism, WPA makes a distinction between honest, constructive criticism and nasty politicking.
The attacks on the capacity of Guyanese to judiciously manage money is grounded in a sub-culture of conscious and unconscious social bigotry which has long been part of our elite national outlook. Guyanese elites are masters of the rhetoric of empathy for the underprivileged, but when it comes to serious policy that involves the masses being in control of their destiny, that empathy gives way to doubt, cynicism and bigotry. WPA condemns in the strongest terms this naked disrespect for most of our citizens. We urge those who are economically better-off and are in positions of privilege to remember that their “success” did not come from some inherent genius, but from the sacrifices of those whose abilities they now doubt.
WPA notes the use of terms such as “handouts,” “free money,” and “dependency” as part of the dismissal of our proposal. We wonder whether these overnight economic theorists realize the anti-black and brown racist origins of those terms. Further, how can people’s own money be given to them as handouts and free money—isn’t the coming oil and gas money theirs too? Clearly, if one follows the logic of these commentators, the coming wealth do not belong to ordinary Guyanese.
Everyone now discovers the virtue of spending state money on social programmes and seems to suggest that the WPA is oblivious to this. We are not amused at the attempts to lecture Professor Thomas and the WPA on the virtues of social policy. We invite these fly-by-night economic theorists to examine every WPA policy statement from the birth of our party in 1974, every WPA election manifesto from 1985 and the two manifestos of the APNU and APNU+AFC with which the WPA was integrally involved in crafting and they will see that our party has long made spending on social programmes central planks of national development.
WPA did not wait on oil wealth to urge spending on education and health care and other aspects of our social infrastructure. To those who feel that Dr. Thomas has not thought through the proposal or has no policy statement, we can only sympathise with their selective reading. We reiterate that no public person in Guyana has written more on oil and gas policy and has documented ideas in that regard than Professor Thomas. His weekly column in the Sunday Stabroek is available to them and his full presentation at Buxton is available to all. It is an indictment of the state of our national discourse when supposedly serious people rely on newspaper headlines and sound-bites or isolate parts of a comprehensive statement to make definitive pronouncements on matters of national interest.
WPA will not be deterred by the sceptics, bigots and naysayers on this matter of direct empowerment of the Guyanese people, particularly the poor. We are prepared to fight the privileged and the anti-poor advocates. We are prepared to defend our proposal against any group or individual if they place themselves on the wrong side of this issue. WPA salutes those who have sought to bring reason to their examination of the proposal and we urge others of that ilk to lift their voices in defence of reason and the right of all Guyanese to directly benefit from our common blessings.
WPA’s proposal is the first serious intervention by a political party on how ordinary Guyanese should fit into the larger plans for oil and gas wealth from the standpoint of policy. When all the braying and shouting is over, it is the Guyanese people who should have the last say. WPA is taking this matter to those who are most affected by it and if needs be, we will make it a defining issue at the 2020 election. We warn that those who seek to play political games on this issue would reap the bitter consequences. WPA welcomes the AFC’s public support of cash-transfers and we urge other serious political parties to embrace the idea. On this and other related matters, Guyanese can be assured that they have a loyal ally in the WPA. Unlike others, the WPA is not shy of raising the expectations of the masses of people; it is their wealth and they should have expectations about how it would be distributed.
Tabitha Sarabo Halley