World Bank says poverty in Guyana among highest in Latin America, Caribbean

…Norton calls on gov’t to utilize oil resources to tackle issue

Leader of the Opposition
Aubrey Norton
Leader of the Opposition Aubrey Norton

The World Bank has said that Guyana’s poverty rate is among the highest in the Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) region prompting the Opposition to call on the government to utilize the resources from the oil and gas sector to bridge the gap.

The World Bank, in its updated fact sheet on Guyana, said that Guyana’s national poverty headcount, the share of the population living below US$5.5 a day, is among the highest in the Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) region at around 48%.

“Poverty rates are highest in the sparsely populated interior or hinterland, where communities have limited access to economic opportunities, healthcare and public services. The country experiences high emigration and brain drain, with 39% of all Guyanese citizens currently residing abroad and roughly half of all Guyanese with a tertiary education having emigrated to the United States,” the World Bank said.

The development institution updated its fact sheet on the country on October 6 and noted that while  Guyana’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita has historically been among the lowest in the LAC region, this is changing owing to the rapid development of the oil and gas industry. It noted that extraordinary economic growth of 20-40% over the last two years brought GDP per capita to over US$9,300 in 2021, from about US$6,600 in 2019.

Real GDP is estimated to have increased by 19.9% in 2021.

“With an economy that is heavily dependent upon natural resources, agriculture, and remittances, Guyana is vulnerable to commodity price fluctuations, adverse weather conditions, and economic conditions in migrant destination countries.

Economic diversification beyond natural resources and agriculture remains a challenge, with sugar, gold, bauxite, shrimp, timber, and rice representing over 80% of the country’s exports in 2014. The export composition is changing, although it remains dependent on natural resources, with almost 40% of exports in 2020 being related to the oil and gas sector,” the World Bank stated.

Meanwhile, at his weekly press conference, Leader of the Opposition Aubrey Norton labelled the government as incompetent and visionless and slammed it for not increasing public servants’ wages.

“Their refusal to give workers a decent and livable income and to take measures to address the extremely high cost of living in Guyana is a clear indication that their approach is not people-centred,” Norton lamented.

He added “…government has the resources that it can give our people a livable wage. It chooses not to. It continues to give 3% to 7% increase on very low wages and salaries to workers. 3% of $70,000 is $2,100 per month for the poor man.”

Norton said that while his party was in government it instituted increases based on salary scales so that the lowest paid could benefit more.

He also called for the government to calculate the minimum amount of money the average man needs to live and pay them a livable wage which will have to be no less than $150,000 per month. The Opposition Leader said that with the rising cost of living, Guyanese families continue to struggle to make ends meet.

“…we call on the government to ensure our people get more from the windfall oil revenues. This windfall now amounts to over US$300M. We call for this windfall to be fairly and justly distributed so that all households can benefit. For ease of reference, this amounts to G$300,000 per household. Guyanese would welcome receiving some of their entitlement over the Christmas and New Year season,” he said.

Norton added that despite lofty promises from the government and talks about development, the gap between the coast and hinterland is rapidly widening with very little being done to bridge it. He stated that the common trend, during Opposition outreaches, is persons complaining about not being able to put food on the table or meet their financial obligations.