The PNC-led coalition Government issued a statement on their fourth anniversary, declaring that “No government before has done more within such a short span of time.” More specifically, the statement claimed they “steered the country forward as a stable and growing economy…restored respect for Guyana as a democracy…and supported and encouraged social cohesion among our multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, plural population.” Accepting the tendency to hyperbole during an election season – which is certainly upon us – these claims yet allow us to evaluate the Government’s performance over the last four years.
The state of the economy is certainly foremost on the minds of most Guyanese. Unlike what the Government claims, however, they could not have possibly “steered the country forward as a stable and growing economy”, since they have not achieved the growth rate achieved by the previous PPP administration. Between 2011 and 2014, the rate averaged 4.8 per cent under the PPP ministrations, but dropped to 3.9 per cent over the four years of PNC rule. It is a cruel hoax that is being perpetrated to claim we are in a “growing economy”.
This becomes more poignant when we examine the various sectors more granularly. In agriculture, which for most of our history was the economy’s linchpin, the Government spoke about “our diversified but balanced agro-industrial strategy”. It is regrettable they did not release any specifics on this “strategy”, since the most the nation was informed about was the President’s exhortation for youths to get more involved in producing and selling plantain chips.
From the beginning, in its manifesto, the PNC-led Government did signal its de-emphasis on agriculture on the coastland, where it was dominated by supporters of the PPP, and committed itself to opening up lands in Region 10, where its supporters dominated, and Region 9, where it hoped to pick up supporters.
Another signal of its neglect was its appointment of a Minister of Agriculture who refused to venture into rural areas. Reacting to continuous criticism, the Government, in the last month, appointed a Junior Minister of Agriculture for “rural areas”, presumably leaving the senior Minister, in its “diversification drive”, to deal with agriculture in the urban areas.
On the coastland, the Government’s release couched its closure of four sugar estates and firing of 7000 workers, which affected over 35,000 family members and three times that number in surrounding communities, thusly: “After giving some $43 billion in “bailouts” and severance payments to the sugar industry (the Govt) took drastic action to save and secure the jobs of over 10,000 workers.”
By lumping “bailouts” and severance payments – which were legally due to the fired workers, but had to be painfully protested for – the Government once again threw out numbers it evidently pulls from the air. Just last December, they had spoken about $32 billion in “bailouts” to sugar, which was challenged by the Opposition Leader; and even if this were accurate, it would mean that $11 billion went to “severance”. This is patently false, since the figure is at best half of that.
But what is even more shocking about the Government’s claims on “diversifying” agriculture is its abandonment of promises to transform sugar workers into farmers by leasing abandoned sugar lands to the fired workers and divesifying sugar into cash crops for the export markets. These coastal lands were literally won from the Atlantic Ocean by the blood, sweat and tears of our ancestors, and it is criminal that this PNC Government is allowing them to revert to “bush” while it seeks to open up arid and acidic savannahs in the interior just to spite PPP supporters.
On the claim of having “restored respect for Guyana as a democracy”, one wonders where this “respect” was after the pointed questioning of the Government’s lawyers by the CCJ judges on their apparent argument for a “Monarchy”.
And finally, on “social cohesion”, the citizens of this country have never been more divided, after the Chair of the PNC, Public Health Minister Volda Lawrence, announced that Government jobs were reserved only for “PNC people”.