The mean season amid poverty reduction & destabilization PERSPECTIVES
Guyana Chronicle
June 15, 2004

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POVERTY reduction is happening whether some people like it or not. Some political elements, including the private media, are becoming more desperate and display a 'sick' behaviour, as they assess their chances in the 2006 elections. They do not like what the outcomes may appear to be. Yes, the private media, too, are political candidates. The mean season, aggressively driven by the private media, is upon us. The private media's frequent denial of the Government's achievements through engaging solicitously-biased diatribe, will not alter the facts. The mean-spirited and those with small minds constantly persist in disputing facts as part of their destabilization efforts. Constantly disputing facts, and in this case, disputing the fact that poverty reduction currently is happening, most certainly set the stage for destabilization.

Poverty reduction

The dispute about whether the poverty rate was at 86% or 43% in the early 1990s needs to be resolved. The 1993 Household Expenditure Survey/Living Standards Measurement Survey reported that 43% of the population was living below the poverty line. But the World Bank Report 1994 suggested that this 43% was probably underestimated, given that the fertility rate is higher for the poor and that research studies show that in a large majority of cases, economic recession goes along with increased inequality in income distribution. It is instructive to note, too, that per capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP) fell by almost 30% in the period 1980 through 1990, a clear case of economic recession in Guyana (World Bank Report), reinforcing the fact that this infamous 43% was an underestimated figure. Keep in mind that a popular definition of recession is when the GDP declines in two or more consecutive quarters. This 43% probably was further underestimated because prices rose dramatically between 1990 and 1992, negating any poverty reduction. According to the World Bank Report 1994, inflation was at 82% in 1991. Clearly, then, for these reasons, the poverty rate was higher than 43% in 1993.

The World Bank Report 1994 indicated that real GDP rose by a mere average of 0.4% per year between the late 1960s and mid-1988. In fact, economic performance degenerated in the 1980s. High poverty levels were sustained in the late 1980s through early 1990s, prompting the World Bank Report 1994 to note "The Government's capacity to deliver essential services has virtually collapsed. Infrastructure remains severely dilapidated. The supply of potable water is limited to a small proportion of the population, drainage and irrigation systems have deteriorated to the point that they are no longer useful, and health and education services have become so inadequate that social indicators for the country have fallen to among the lowest in the Caribbean." This broader view of poverty and given the 30% fall in GDP from 1980 through 1990, therefore, prompt me to stand by Ramprakash's finding of 86% poverty in 1991, a study that used Boyd's poverty line and officially-derived costs for minimum subsistence requirements. The Boyd poverty line included income and costs of minimum subsistence requirements, and was adjusted for overestimation, inflation, and for an average household size, making for some comparisons.

The Living Conditions Survey (LCS) found 35% of the population lived below the poverty line in 1999. The Guyana Public Expenditure Review (World Bank) compared the 35% finding with earlier poverty studies. So what is this hullabaloo about comparisons, as similar variables were used? This Report even recommended that the Social Impact Amelioration Program (SIMAP) and Basic Needs Trust Fund (BNTF) update their project approval decisions using the LCS that gave us the 35%.

We really need to consider the utility value of some comparisons, providing weighting to their limitations where necessary, and especially those fraught with difficulties. Jasso (1988) argues that the Axiom of Comparison prescribes the notion that a large class of phenomena as happiness, a sense of distributive justice, and so on, may be realized through a comparison process, despite the problematics of some comparisons. In effect, how you see or assess yourself comes from comparisons with others in time and space.

In 1992, the entire social services sector received only 8% of the National Budget. Guyana, indeed, has come a long way since 1992, gradually sanitizing and eliminating the legacy of the 1968-1992 years. Poverty is more than economics, as substantiated by the World Bank definition. Statistical rates cited are mainly prevalence and incidence rates that ensure that the discussion is trapped within economics. We still need economics research on poverty that would measure the Headcount Index for determining incidence and prevalence, Poverty Gap for estimating the intensity of poverty, and the FGT P2 for giving weight to the very poor relative to the 'mildly' poor. But 'more than economics' also implies research on social and psychological considerations of people's lives within a condition of gross inequality.

Post-elections violence

Let us now look at another type of destabilization. Now a few years into the new millennium, the new youthful generation of today is interacting with previous generations who were witnesses to the genesis of the political turmoil in Guyana. Essentially, the nature of this political conflict is similar to previous years, except that today, it presents itself with greater intensity and frequency. Incredibly, amid all this mayhem, the country as a whole plods along, silently dismissing the purveyors of this political hostility.

Since 1992, the year in which democracy returned to Guyana after being on the absentee list for some 28 years, some sections of the society have shown considerable reluctance to accept electoral defeat. This disinclination to concede electoral loss graciously is all the more amazing, as the three national election results since 1992 were validated as free, fair, and transparent by reputable international observers, given the usual administrative errors expected in all elections.

*** What these people are anyway who blatantly and continuously refuse to accept and engage in reason and rationality. These people are part of a community of irrationality, a group of persons with similar social origins and social network. Today, they are institutionalized in an anti-'democracy' political/mass media/racial complex.

When C. Wright Mills alluded to the political/military/industrial complex in the United States, he was attempting to determine who rules America. In the case of Guyana, however, knowledge of the workings of the political/mass media/racial complex may give some indication as to 'who' and 'what' are responsible for acts inimical to nation building. Since the return to democracy in 1992, destabilization efforts have been in vogue, and this triad complex may very well be a significant factor in the 'destabilization' equation.

One popular political destabilization effort is the now all too familiar post-elections violence that has graduated to becoming a characteristic feature of social life. The outcomes of this senseless violence have really battered the economy. Further, in the absence of a broadcast law in the mass media, there is anarchy, especially on the television. Media reports lacking in accuracy, balance, fundamental fairness, and laced with racial hatred, are definitively the functions of destabilization.

Rule-of-law marches

Since the George Bacchus' revelation of Minister Gajraj's alleged involvement with a death squad, Georgetown has been a witness and in some cases an unwilling partner to several rule-of-law marches. Their message clearly called for a commission of inquiry. A Presidential Commission of Inquiry was announced a few weeks ago, but the rule-of-law marches persist. The organizers of these marches now wail about the Commission in that they were not consulted, the terms of reference are restrictive, and that an international component is needed, among others. There is nothing in this 1933 commission of inquiry law that mandates the necessity for consultations and so the institution of the Presidential Commission is in accordance with law, given also that President Bharrat Jagdeo is the elected President of Guyana.

In a previous Perspective, we discussed a few guiding principles of the Minnesota Protocol, demonstrating that the Presidential Commission substantially meets the Protocol's requirements. Why then continue with the rule of law marches, given the establishment of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry? Are these marches then not another form of destabilization?

A 'Nation Watch' television program recently carried an interview with George Bacchus. This broadcast may be justified in the name of freedom of _expression. But airing this program at this time may be inappropriate, given the establishment of the Commission. Let the Commission do its work and not prejudice its activities by allowing a trial by the media. Once the Commission has reached its conclusions, then let the chips fall where they may. Until then, let's wait for the results of the Commission.

In general, the 'anti-democracy' political/mass media/racial complex perseveres in destabilizing the society, making nation building quite problematic, despite some level of sustained progress in the society. This complex essentially is a community of irrationality, engaged in a persistent dissemination of despair.