Moving apace on poverty reduction Editorial
Guyana Chronicle
April 21, 2004

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AS a colony for all but 38 years of its centuries of existence, Guyana was defined as a poor country.

Even today, when it has been declared by the international community to have spiraled upwards from poor country status to a developing middle-income nation, Guyana is still referred to as being "poor."

So what is a "poor country"? One definition points to a poor country as one in which basic needs to sustain daily livelihoods are not sufficiently satisfied. By that definition, then, poverty is manifested by the absence or low level of basic social services such as health, education, water supplies, and sanitation.

Consequently, poverty reduction refers to the process of decreasing the incidence or degree of personal and national poverty. That is, to the process of raising incomes and providing basic social services.

Transforming Guyana into a modernized, prosperous society has been the catchwords that have propelled strategies by governments here since the 1950s. In the 1970s, the Burnham administration flaunted a "Feed, Clothe and House (FCH) the Nation" slogan that, together with other programmes, reputedly aimed to make "the small man a real man."

The Hoyte administration, taking a non-socialist approach, attempted to fast-forward the poverty reduction initiative by implementing a World Bank/IMF stipulated Economic Recovery Programme (ERP).

But as well-intentioned as those plans were, visible progress began only after Dr. Cheddi Jagan called for a review of the ERP and insisted on economic growth strategies being balanced with what he termed "development with a human face."

By 1997, according to a World Bank Country Assistance Strategy report, "poverty rates declined from 42 percent of the population in 1992 to 35 percent in 1999, although rural poverty remained high."

However, "by the late 1990s," adds the World Bank report, "the initial gains from economic stabilization and the first generation of structural reforms had been exhausted. At the same time, a series of domestic and external shocks, including political uncertainty, social unrest, adverse weather conditions and declining commodity prices, impacted Guyana."

Critics of the government, including some media "analysts," never mention these factors. Instead, they argue that ethnic discrimination and the marginalization of predominantly single-ethnic communities are chiefly responsible for poverty stalking the land - and for these "poor" people turning to a life of crime.

They are wrong, of course. But rhetoric apart, the situation isn't going to change for the better if we continue to condone violence as a means of venting dislike for the government of the day, or advocate policy drifts designed to reverse the progress on poverty reduction that all governments - past and present - committed to.

We've seen public spending on health, education, water supply, drainage and irrigation, sea defense, road rehabilitation, and low- and middle-income house ownership accelerate each fiscal year since the turn of the 1990s. And quite apart from government programmes taking shape, private initiatives have resulted in a steadily rising percentage of the Guyanese people enjoying better living standards.

This year's national budget aims to reduce poverty in Guyana still further and place more Guyanese onto the development ladder. The goal is to exclude the country's citizenry from the more than 2.8 billion people, or around half the world's population, who live below the international poverty line of US$2 a day, and 1.2 billion of whom live in extreme poverty, surviving on less than $1 a day.

The obligation of all of us should be that of moving apace on poverty reduction.