Man shortage is hurting
My column - by Adam Harris
Kaieteur News
February 4, 2007

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In the 1970s just about the time when Guyana was beginning to pursue its dream of hydroelectricity and when bauxite and sugar were kings of the national economy, Dr. Kenneth King, the then Minister of Economic Planning announced that Guyana could find itself in a position where there would not be enough people for the jobs that would abound.

At the time, just about every day people were walking about seeking jobs as carpenters, and masons and other construction workers. There was a mass of labourers who were constantly visiting work sites and the numerous other places seeking jobs.

I was living in Bartica then and most of the people in that community had grown accustomed to a life of leaving school and seeking jobs on the hinterland. These young men would go to work in the quarries, in the various logging concessions and in the gold fields.

A few of the bright ones would gravitate to teaching or would travel to the city to further their education, eventually becoming forest inspectors or wardens to work in the gold and diamond fields.

As time went by, this dream of employment for all never materialized. The Venezuelans used their clout with the international community and clamped the hydroelectric project; the bottom fell out of the prices for bauxite and sugar and things started to go downhill.

The oil price had already begun to go up and it continued, much to our problem. The heady days were over. We were destined to remain poor. What we could have bought a short while ago suddenly cost more and before one knew it, our money began to decline in value.

The devaluations would come and our exchange rate began to move from $2.50 for one United States dollar to where it is now. On Friday, I learnt that the International Cricket Council determined that the exchange rate should be $207 to the United States dollar.

My first reaction was that this was eye pass. Imagine people telling us at what rate they proposed to value our currency. They surely did not stipulate an exchange rate for either of the other countries that would be hosting Cricket World Cup 2007.

That is going to be another story.

And so it was that people suddenly found it harder and harder to make ends meet. I suppose that coincident with those times was the marked migration of men from office jobs and any form of employment with the government.

To this day I am surprised that if one is to do a head count of the heads of schools they would find no more than a handful of heads who are men. Even the famed Queen's College is headed by a woman and has been so for nearly two decades.

The offices are equally denuded of men as are the City Council Cleansing Department, the various guard services, and these days, the Prisons.

In those days when just about everything seemed to go wrong and the government kept trying to compensate, in one case by introducing a ban on certain food items, men rose to the challenge.

Indeed, it is true that the stricter the government, the wiser the population. People modified their cars and minibuses by using heavier shocks so that when they were laden with contraband to the casual observer they would appear to be just right. Even funeral parlours got into the act.

There was one famous case of a hearse travelling from Berbice to the city. Everyone knows that the average man wants nothing to do with the dead so what better way to transport contraband that in the form of a dead?

So there was this hearse coming down and certain that it would evade the many roadblocks that had become the norm. Somebody must have tipped off the police because they stopped the hearse. The story goes that one rank asked the driver to open the coffin he had in the back.

It might have been the hesitation on the part of the driver or the certainty of the tip but the ranks proceeded to have a look at the coffin. The story goes that one rank decided to send the other to take a look while he stood back. The other rank decided to decline the offer by virtue of his rank. He said that the senior rank must always lead by example.

This went on for a while until one of then plucked courage and decided to take a look. I wonder what might have happened if the driver had yelled “Boo”. He did not and the police found a large quantity of garlic, onions, potatoes, garlic, split peas and some of the other banned commodities, most notably, flour.

But that was just the rare bust of a large shipment. Another rare bust involved the Guyana Defence Force. A huge army truck was held at Springlands laden with contraband. I could only assume that the seizure ended up in the homes of many senior police officers and GDF officers.

And on another occasion, an army truck turned over in the Ituni trail. If my memory serves me right, people died and the cargo at the time was contraband.

Many people got rich and are still rich to this day. Many of them still boast that they made their money under Burnham. But the deed had already been done. Men realised that there was money outside the government offices and ever since then they have not gone back.

It is the same with the other skilled areas. Perhaps the message has gone out that there is no need to sweat to make money. Marijuana and cocaine came to replace contraband and the trend of men gravitating to easy money continued. Men decided to place a high premium on their labour.

Journalism that was once considered a male thing now has more women in Guyana than men. And because of the value these people place on their labour those with brains leave for other pastures, sometimes falling into the very drug trap they sought to elude while they were in Guyana.

Whatever the case I recognized the drastic shortage of male labour when I looked at the construction of the stadium. Had it not been for the mass of Indian labour we might have been hard pressed to complete the facility. It was difficult to find enough labour for the numerous constructions—and there were more than enough to accommodate all the skilled labour we could have provided.

On Friday, the Finance Minister spoke of the programmes to have more money available to people. He also spoke of a programme to train 25,000 young people as carpenters, masons and other skills.

Will the government be able to attract lots of young men? Only time would tell. I already know that boys seem to have no interest in going to school and therein lies the root of the current problem.