Poverty and unemployment

Stabroek News
March 30, 2001

Though everyone has been obsessed with politics since the election campaign started, if not before, in the opinion of many. much of our ongoing malaise as a country is due to the lack of economic development. Our economy went into reverse gear from the end of the seventies, partly as a result of an extensive programme of nationalisation which led to a large fall in production and the `miniaturisation' of the private sector, and has never really recovered, though there was certainly some improvement from l989. But of course, as noted by Mr Rajendra Bisessar in a letter [ please note: link provided by LOSP web site ] below, that improvement flowed from the Economic Recovery Programme which incorporated IMF conditionalities including the removal of subsidies and the curtailment of public sector employment which impacted severely on the urban population.

This has been compounded by two things, a brain drain that started as early as the fifties and the deterioration of the system of education which can be linked to the abolition of dual control in l976 and the subsequent failure to invest adequate funds in the state system. And many of our teachers emigrated to other countries in the Caribbean and further afield.

We may be less well off as a nation today than we were thirty years ago. Real wages in the public sector certainly fell in the eighties as Mr Leslie Melville and others have pointed out. The bauxite industry never really recovered from its slump, and the recovery in the nineties led by sugar, gold and rice has tapered off due to price, marketing and other reasons. People are therefore as a whole not well off, there is poverty and unemployment and those are fertile breeding grounds for dissatisfaction anywhere. We are suffering primarily therefore from stagnation and a lack of economic development.

There has also been discrimination, as Mr Wyman's letter [ please note: link provided by LOSP web site ] in this issue illustrates. That does not help, nor is it an answer to point out that there was massive discrimination against Indians in various ways under the Burnham government, including the illegal seizure of the government by rigged elections. This game of racial tit for tat does not work. For every incident of discrimination one side can produce the other can produce another. The only way to deal with it is to forget the past and wipe the slate clean.

Start from now. Recognise that there was discrimination in the past eight years. Some of this was an inevitable reaction to the inheritance in l992 and a correction of the then situation. But over the years it has gone well beyond that, as Mr Wyman's letter shows. There has been discrimination in jobs, the awarding of contracts and in other areas. This must be rectified and put an end to.

But above all, there must be rapid economic development. People want jobs, homes, security. Stagnation has led us to turn inwards against each other. The PNC REFORM had a plan and some bright new go-getters like Stanley Ming and Eric Phillips. Ask them to help. The National Development Strategy is replete with good ideas. Use this as a basis. Make energy and talent the main criteria for selection for jobs. If the economy were developing rapidly a lot of the tension would evaporate.

It is all a major challenge for the young president-elect, and the post-election unrest will not exactly encourage investors. He is aware that under the revised constitution he can only appoint four technocrat ministers. But many, including several of the younger leaders of the PNC/R and the leaders of the smaller opposition parties, feel he must go well beyond this. They want a broader, more inclusive government. Once the situation returns to some kind of normalcy, and that must clearly be a good faith pre-condition, the president should initiate an urgent meeting to set an agenda for dialogue.