Poverty....and two letters

Frankly Speaking...
By A.A. Fenty
Stabroek News
August 24, 2001

Oh dear. Quickly, I must return to the more grim realities of our existence. There is no nation on the planet which does not have some level of poverty - however, it is defined. We are told - and these two are the less profound - that poverty is "a sin" - and that the poor will always be with us. Why? And just what is this scourge described as poverty?

Definitions abound, of course. A Poverty Reduction Strategy pamphlet advises that "poverty is a global problem...which attacks a person, not only materially but also psychologically. Poverty eats away one's dignity and engenders a feeling of hopelessness and despair.

Sure, the inability to provide one's basic human needs - medical attention, education, family security, daily meals and clothing, et cetera - must certainly demoralise the spirit. Paralysis of the Spirit, that lack of self-worth or belief, utter hopelessness, has to be one of poverty's worst manifestations. That is why I won't bother with the National Development Strategy's well-written Chapter 29 on the subject. Except to quote this: "Poverty in Guyana is occasioned by an interlocking complex of policies and actions. To adjust, or even fundamentally change, one or two of them will not necessarily overcome the problem, or reduce its incidence. Poverty in Guyana must therefore be attacked simultaneously, from several directions."

The NDS has well-crafted proposals with respect to poverty alleviation, but over recent weeks teams from the Secretariat tasked with formulating a strategy document for the World Bank have been "humbled" by the real poverty they encountered in the nooks and crannies of this country. They knew or suspected pauperisation, but coming face-to-face with its aspects was, even, frightening.

Encouragingly, the victims of impoverishment themselves have offered solutions. Some are novel. Some are decidedly steps backward in time. Some regrettable but practical. Like West Demerara villagers calling for "a return to rigid school uniforms with subsidies from Government." They even want cheap standard footwear, so no parent is pressured to buy "Nike, Adidas or Clarks". Recall Forbes Burnham? Even as you contemplate some parents' outrage at attacks on their freedom to choose. If certain suggestions from the poor are taken on board.

This weekend's Regional Conferences on local poverty reduction are bound to recommend adoption of ideas and priorities put forward over the past weeks. Investment and employment opportunities must take centre stage. The government, with help from the World Bank, will be required to respond urgently. Guyana's poor have spoken!

It is, in a way, in the context of all the above, that I read and studied with much interest two recent letters in the "busy" columns of this newspaper. They were quite critical of the present government's investment policies. Or the lack of them. The critic-writers employed strong and forceful language. Like a Paul Singh (SN 13-08-01) who wrote: "We have substituted sound economic principles and practice for slogans, photo opportunities, handouts and everything cosmetic. We are revisiting the days when socialism ruled, where nothing real happened but there were slogans and politicians posed everyday in the front page of the Chronicle for pictures.

"The Poverty Reduction Strategy is an international hand-out programme; it does not address the problems of our bauxite, rice, sugar, gold and timber industries."

Days later, the message of a Marcus V. Green - responding to Ambassador Ishmael on Debt Relief - caught my attention. Wrote Marcus V: "Mr Ishmael's justification for closer international ties is a subterfuge and a diversion from real issues of importance to the poor and powerless of Guyana.

"Guyana's entire economic policy to date has rested on a single effective plank: the generosity of wealthier foreigners. Debt relief, while welcome, is retroactive foreign aid, and another humiliating reminder of our country's abject reliance on the alms of other nations.

"It is fitting that the PPP takes the cup as its symbol, for they extend a beggar's cup to each and every passer-by. International and multilateral ties, to the government, are simple avenues to new sources of unearned overseas money.

"Where is the government's commitment to expanding the Guyanese economy? When will they begin talking of the real measures that will alleviate poverty and misery for the people of Guyana's villages and towns?

They will not, for they lack the courage to look the difficult answers in the face. It is time for the government to quit looking overseas for easy answers to the problems of our national poverty".

Ouch! Strong stuff that from Mr Green. But how justified or valid are those critical comments? I've seen an attempt to respond to Paul Singh and I expect that the government's spokesmen are capable (?) of putting Mr Green right. My only observation on investment is this: while I agree that Messrs Rohee and Da Silva have to be more "strategically aggressive" in wooing international investors, it is plain that continual organised street protests, objections to tax holidays and certain other conditions for foreign investors and "routine opposition" by Amerindian groupings and environmentalists won't inspire any confidence in this country as a destination for investors. And does massive smuggling help our economic cause?

The PNC and poverty

It would be remiss of me not to mention the activities of the PNC and its Leader in this issue. No, I'm not going to mention their recent demonstrations or what Mr Hoyte advised the GPL investors to do even before those investors began under-performing. Nor will I harp back to the darker days of bannings, foreign-exchange controls, body-searches at airports, midnight Guylines for cooking gas and every consumer item under the sun and moon, the massive devaluation of 1989, or the Burnham technique in granting post-Budget pay increases to his public servants.

No-No-No. Instead, I am listening to Opposition Leader Hoyte on this matter. I supported some of his criticisms of the conduct of the earlier Poverty Reduction Community Consultations. (Since then, things have been corrected in that regard.) One should listen whenever Desmond Hoyte addresses the issue of poverty. The man should know what he is speaking of. Even before his ERP - his Economic Recovery Programme, inspired by outside agencies - his Caribbean friend Sir Alister McIntyre had rated Guyana just above Haiti, in terms of poverty.

Ho Hum. One is tempted to ask: Where did the undoubted combined brilliance of the Hoytes, Greenidges, Kings, Ellises, Parrises, Fergusons and Murrays get us? Oh, I forgot. Just as could be claimed now, "the world economic situation" over which "we" have no control dictated difficulty, or failure, then. In spite of the efforts of the achievers and brilliant minds listed above.

The last two editions of the pro-PNC New Nation reported on the ailing economy and that the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce had audience with the PNC/R. Well, I trust that the businessmen begged Congress Place for breathing space, for peace in which to perform and for its legislative assistance in Parliament. And despite what Hoyte declared to his "General Council" - that the economy is in crisis and that "I do believe this Government is going to collapse" - I trust that the PNC joins hands with the Poverty Reduction people to impress upon the World Bank the need to assist our poor. Even before the hoped for collapse.

The dialogue continues....

1) Last Friday's letter-writer treated us to a thumbnail treatise on "the long tradition of protest" that Guyanese come from. "No good reason exists to stop now," he claims.
In response, I merely quote from Monday's Stabroek Editorial: "It seems that the stratagems of the East Coast Demerara villagers in the protests that followed the March 19 elections are being adopted by all and sundry. Burning tyres, stoning the police and beating up people threatens to become the preferred means of fostering protests."
2) "No developing country like ours struggling to survive in an unsympathetic global environment can afford these constant eruptions of unrest and violence. Each and every citizen must understand this. No matter how justifiable the cause, storming buildings, attacking law enforcement officials and putting the lives of others at risk is just not acceptable and is as serious as the grievances being protested." Tell that to the political organisation which has taken out the patent on protesting. (Or its surrogates.)
3) Our National Park "velodrome" our new Mocha "Race course", our "Olympic-size" swimming pools; no 'Sixhead' gym yet! Is it any wonder?
4) Was it John Donne who wrote, "Every man's death diminishes me"? We should note the passing of our fellow human beings. I do. But I commend CANU, BASS and the Police Force for the daily dangerous battles against cocaine trafficking, smuggling and crime, generally.
4a) What's that New Nation! The convicted Michael Marcel Mahadeo - for 23 Kilos of coke and an arsenal - was connected to the PPP/C!?
4b) And now I have to appreciate advice once given: "The Walking Wednesday Rambler tends to be thin-skinned". Just what brought on this Wednesday's mini-tirade against me, fella? Do I really have to be worried about journalistic "territory" - after all these years? From a "stranger"? I'll remain a fan but never another mention, I promise. Finis. (Take it out on the Kaieteur!)
5) Coming next Friday: Farewell Laurie Leyland. And congrats on your appointment.

'Til next week!