There should be a bottom up approach to a Poverty Reduction Strategy

Stabroek News
June 25, 2001

Dear Editor,

We Guyanese should thank Guyana Review for pointing out in its April 2001 edition that Guyana was going to present to the Boards of the IMF and World Bank a Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper that was, in effect, cheating on the process by which the Strategy Paper should be prepared. The Government is anxious to have the Poverty Strategy Paper prepared since it will not get the debt relief money without a Poverty Strategy Paper. Since the Government was caught red-handed in being deceptive about the preparation process, the President himself put the Poverty Strategy Paper as an agenda item for the dialogue process. The PNC was asleep on the issue. As the party that prides itself on the need for an Opposition, it is amazing that the PNC was in such deep slumber on what is indeed a fundamental structural issue affecting PNC supporters.

The debt relief programme is called the HIPC Initiative. HIPC (Hippic) stands for Highly Indebted Poor Countries. We should master these terms so that we are not blinded by the jargon associated with debt relief money.

Although in a hurry to draw down the debt relief money, the President seems to be in no hurry to reduce poverty. If he is in a hurry to reduce poverty then he would go about the HIPC programme properly. The President wants a Poverty Strategy Paper by August or September. If the programme is to be prepared properly, it cannot be done in that short time. If the President continues to short change the process, then the people in Guyana, organised as the WPA advises along lines of self emancipation , should write the 48 Executive Directors of the Boards of the IMF and the World Bank to make it clear that the Poverty Reduction Strategy was not properly prepared. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to address the problem of our poverty and we must be sure that we go about it properly.

The World Bank has made it clear in its World Development Report 2000/ 2001 on Attacking Poverty that there are three parts to its Poverty Strategy Programmes:

(a) Expanding economic opportunities for poor people by stimulating overall economic growth;

(b) Facilitating empowerment by making state institutions more accountable and responsive to poor people, strengthening the participation of poor people in political processes and local decision making and removing the social barriers that result from distinctions of gender, ethnicity, race, religion and social status; and

(c) Enhancing security by reducing poor people's vulnerability to ill health, economic shocks, crop failure, policy induced dislocations, natural disasters, and violence as well as helping them cope with adverse shocks when they occur. A big part of this is ensuring that effective safety nets are in place to mitigate the impact of personal and national calamities.

Any preliminary glance at these areas will make it clear that the work to prepare a strategy cannot be completed in 2 to 3 months. Properly approached, it will take 2 to 3 years. But at least we should give the process about 6 months to a year when the people themselves become aware of their economic opportunities.

The three areas can be conceived as follows: (a) Political consensus to provide a climate for economic growth. (b) Local Government reform to allow for the people's participation in making decisions that will affect their economies (c) A revamping of SIMAP.

The political consensus to provide a climate for economic growth should be based at the very least on an agreement on the National Development Strategy. This will settle the present debate on the investment programme and on sugar, rice, bauxite and the value added activities that we should promote. In respect of the investment programme, the Government is proceeding with the Berbice river bridge to the exclusion, apparently, of the Guyana 21 approach even though Guyana 21 includes the Berbice river bridge. This bridge should be put on the table and should not be decided by one political party. This country belongs to all of us and we should all have a say in these once-and-for-all decisions. It is possible to reach general agreement on the overall direction that the economy should take if we would make use of the draft of the National Development Strategy. The Government has shown little inclination to reach such agreement.

The second part of the strategy is the hardest because it strikes at the root of Guyana's social problems of racial divisiveness and lack of participatory democracy. The Government should speed up the process of local government reform to achieve the World Bank's requirement of "the participation of poor people in political processes and local decision making." Even if the reformed local government institutions do not complete their own poverty reduction strategies, at least the legal structures should be in place to empower people to decide on how to improve their economies. This should apply to the Mayor and City Council, to the New Amsterdam Town Council, to the other Town Councils, to the village councils, to the other rural district councils and to the Regional Democratic Councils, all which need to be reformed to become more autonomous in deciding how to spend their money.

The laws for reforming local government should not take more than a few months especially as preliminary work on this reform has already been done by the Constitution Reform Commission. If this reform is comprehensively conceived, it will go a considerable way to addressing discriminations that arise from "gender, ethnicity, race, religion and social status."

The third part of the strategy can be addressed in a preliminary manner by the reform of SIMAP to make it a more effective safety net. This can be achieved if there is more local government participation in deciding on the SIMAP projects.

The President wishes to window dress these fundamental changes by a committee and by the use of internet technology. What the President is avoiding are two inevitables-consensus in overall economic planning and a bottom-up approach to formulating poverty programmes. The President is a top-down decision maker, charming and smiling, but instinctively opposed to participatory democracy.

The President should abandon this top-down approach and go about the preparation properly. He should forget about his September deadline and go down in history as instituting a genuine bottom- up approach to poverty reduction. If the World Bank is serious about their own approach, they would not accept a poverty strategy that does not empower the poor. And if we the people are serious about reducing poverty, we will use every means at our disposal to make sure that the President and the World Bank are serious.

Yours faithfully,
Clarence F. Ellis