The Governor of the Bank of Guyana finally conceded this week there is a shortage of foreign currency in Guyana. The President and the Finance Minister are silent, as usual. More than 70 tonnes of Guyana’s exported rice were confiscated in Jamaica because the rice smelled and was infected with fungus. The Agriculture Minister is not only silent, he jetted out of the country to attend a talk-shop food safety conference in Ethiopia, spending several million dollars of taxpayers’ money, while abrogating his responsibility to the people. At least three children died of preventable causes at the country’s national referral hospital, the Georgetown Public Hospital, and weeks after, the hospital and the Public Health Ministry still insist they are investigating. The mortuary at the New Amsterdam Hospital no longer functions, medicines are still in short supply across Guyana, there is no cataract surgery in all of Regions Five (Mahaica-Berbice) and Six (East Berbice-Corentyne) because the Port Mourant Ophthalmology Centre stopped functioning since 2015. The NIS is in trouble. The Berbice River Bridge is in trouble. The list of crisis-level situations across all sectors is unending.
With the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) Government becoming illegal by March 21, with the country being hurtled towards a constitutional crisis by an unconscionable Government, people have begun to notice that there are, in fact, many debilitating crisis suffocating Guyana and the Guyanese people. While the David Granger-led APNU/AFC Government carries on with business as usual, the country is rapidly falling apart. Civil society largely are jittery, worried about further deterioration of the economy. The United Nations and the European Union recognise this and have called on Government to adhere to the Constitution and hold elections before March 21 or in accordance with Article 106 (6) and 106 (7). The Carter Centre, recognising the impending constitutional crisis, made haste in coming to Guyana. But the silence of the ABC countries and Caricom is deafening, particularly given their vociferous Venezuela posture.
While APNU/AFC is busy these days trying to craft the next move to delay elections, with only 36 days left for them to comply, one of the many crisis-situations alarming people is the shortage of foreign currency and the depreciation of the Guyana dollar. The foreign currency shortage is something Guyanese have known about for some time. The Governor of the Bank of Guyana, the Finance Minister and his Cabinet colleagues cannot escape the truth anymore. The foreign currency shortage and the depreciation of the Guyana dollar have reached a stage, however, that would be difficult for band aiding the problem. Commercial banks, Cambios and businesses dealing with foreign currency are operating with exchange rates routinely now between GY$220 and GY$230 for one US dollar.
This crisis did not just jumped at us. It has been in the making since May 2015. The fact is that export earnings has dropped by more than US$300 million annually. Sugar export losses have made a significant dent in the influx of the US dollar, Guyana’s sugar export having dropped by greater than 50 per cent since 2015. Even though rice production and rice export have been sustained since 2015, export earnings from rice have significantly dropped because we are exporting lower-priced rice products, exporting more paddy than ever before, significantly replacing export of rice. Guyana is also exporting rice to lower-priced markets than before 2015. Fish export has also been reduced. Much of the problem stems from the stupidity of the Government which decided to wait on OIL, while allowing deterioration of the traditional economy.
Not surprisingly, the Government’s posture is the “Shaggy” principle – “It Was Not Me” – blaming the Private Sector for hoarding foreign currency and blaming Cuban traders for by-passing the banking and Cambio systems. But there is a reason why the Private Sector may be holding onto their US dollars. People believe that this Government is clueless in managing the economy. The tax-and-spend policies have generated no confidence in the Government’s capacity to drive the economy forward. Compounding the problem is the Government’s reckless move to draw down more than US$300 billion from the foreign currency reserve at the Bank of Guyana, reducing it by more than 50 per cent and depleting the gold reserve from $25 billion down to about $2 billion. At the same time, the national debt has increased by more than US$500 million. With the panic of impending elections, APNU/AFC is on a spending spree, election gimmicks, with freebies. The shortage of foreign currency and depreciation of the Guyana dollar is about to get worse.