Most are at their wits' end to make ends meet Consumer Concerns
By Eileen Cox
Stabroek News
March 31, 2002

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Much is written about poverty alleviation, little is seen. The poor are very visible in rural areas and we know, though they do not speak of it, that many public servants are heavily indebted. Who is not, these days?

A single mother writes in the Stabroek News on March 25: spelling out the cost of supporting three children, two at secondary school and one at primary. Her monthly expenses go like this:

Transportation (children) $6,000
Transportation (mother) 1,760
Groceries 10,000
Electricity 3,000

Her salary is $20,000 per month. You see at a glance that she has overspent without even providing for rent, clothing and cleaning equipment. She is lucky to be employed. There are single mothers who are unemployable.

On 20 April last year I included in my column on Consumer Concerns the average monthly expenses for a family of four. It ran like this -
Rent $25,000
Food 22,500
Transportation 5,000
Electricity 2,500
Telephone 1,500
Cosmetics etc. 3,000
Clothing (including shoes) 3,000
Medical 2,000
Household cleaning
(cooking gas, etc.) 1,000

It adds up to $65,500 per month. Even if you pinch and contrive you are always in debt and dependent on relatives and friends to send US or Canadian dollars.

Last year I was pleading for the income tax ceiling to be raised. This was not a new plea. In 1996 the Consumers Advisory Bureau sent a letter to the Senior Minister of Finance, Hon. Bharrat Jagdeo, recommending that the income tax threshold be raised to $25,000 a month. We all know that this year both the Private Sector Commission and the Trades Union Congress failed to convince the Minister of Finance that raising of the income tax threshold could no longer be delayed.

This year's Budget Speech includes a paragraph on Poverty Reduction and Job Creation. Poverty Reduction has not been visible over the years. We are, most of us, at our wits' end to make two ends meet.

Dr Clive Thomas in his Report on "Poverty and the 1999 Guyana Survey of Living Conditions" pointed out that critical poverty showed no improvement in the rural interior between 1992/3 and 1999.

Job creation is a good thing but we also need training for jobs, development of skills and entrepreneurship, getting away from the commission agency business. Look around and you will see the multitude of imported products that could well have been manufactured in Guyana.

In addition to single mothers, a very vulnerable group is the elderly. What has been done to alleviate the hardship that they suffer?

Recommendations were made by the Guyana Consumers Association and the Consumers Advisory Bureau to the present Minister of Finance to review the Dependants Pension Fund (DPF). This Fund started as the Widows and Orphans Fund to give some measure of relief to the widows of public servants. Unfortunately, a mortgage scheme was introduced for the benefit of contributors. It is costly to run this scheme. As a result, it is hardly worth while for some of the pensioners to even collect the miserable pensions allotted to them.

We have recommended that the DPF be closed and the money handed over to the

NIS with the mortgage fund going to the New Building Society and present day contributors being refunded their monthly contribution of $100. Hopefully, pensioners would then be paid at the NIS rate.

A question comes to my mind? Why is it that there is far more sympathy for mothers and the elderly in developed countries than in a small county like ours?

In our youth we were told: Never say Die. The Guyana Human Rights Association has invited NGOs to co-operate in an effort to reduce poverty. GHRA in an introductory paragraph states:

"Our concern is not to dwell on our weaknesses, but to focus on capacities we can develop by mutual cooperation, thereby strengthening our own organisations and simultaneously multiplying our effectiveness as a sector".

Let's get moving.