PNC’s racist economic policies

We close August by addressing another revisionist assertion about Forbes Burnham: that his government’s systemic policies towards Indian Guyanese were not “racist”.
In 1964, Burnham inherited an economy dominated by colonial interests, where Indians had independently created their major economic niches outside of sugar – rice and a toehold in importation and retailing. Rice production had reached 275,000 tons, becoming the largest employer of Indians who had entered mainstream retailing in Georgetown.
However, after 1965, the PNC mandated all rice be bought and sold through governmental entities. It fixed a low domestic price, and then exported the rice at much higher prices. The huge 118% implicit tax on rice farmers crippled the industry, which by 1985 had shrunk to 95,000 tons.
Examining the proposed spending in the PNC’s 1972-76 development plan, present UG Chancellor J.E. Greene concluded, “The crucial factor in terms of patronage is the shift in the proportion of government expenditure away from the Indian farmer into the pockets of the African wage earner.”
In the sugar industry, Indian Guyanese comprised the bulk of the low-paying field labour, and were pitifully poor. But after “profit sharing” was arbitrated in 1968, they received a welcome average of a month’s salary as “back pay”. In 1974, however, when sugar prices spiked, the PNC Government imposed a levy on profits, scooping off $256M by 1975 and US$1.5 billion by 2003. Neither the workers received their share of profits (60%) nor the industry their 40% for reinvestment in field and factory. Sugar was crippled by PNC’s misguided policies, even as it funded the economy.
The military and militarised units such as Police, Army, National Service and Peoples Militia were boosted to absorb the bulk of unemployed African-Guyanese youths. By 1976, according to Prof Ken Danns, Guyana had “Disciplined Forces” with a combined strength of 21,000, up from 2631 in 1965. Its soldier-to-civilian ratio of 1:35 was one of the highest in the world. According to the Latin American Bureau, “The intake into all of the disciplined services is 90% black, reflecting the widespread violation of entrance requirements exercised by leaders of the ruling party.” To support this manpower, spending moved from $22M or 8% of the budget in 1966 to $113M or 14.2% of the budget in 1976.
By 1977, the Government nationalised and controlled over 80% of the economy. Between 1965 and 1981, the bureaucracy – including that for “regionalisation” and 7 new Ministries – grew by over 400% from 27,000 to 124,000. The upper and middle-class supporters of the PNC were empowered through jobs in the bloated public sector (including the nationalised industries), boards, and directorships of Government corporations. “State control …gave to the regime control of the lion’s share of the country’s economic resources, to be used for the satisfaction of the patronage claims of its black and coloured supporters.”
According to Prof Percy Hintzen. Indian-Guyanese were further miniaturised in the Public Sector.
Housing was another area to transfer wealth to PNC supporters. The 1972-76 “Feed, Clothe and House the Nation” plan called for building 65,000 “housing units”. According to Carl Greenidge, “Some 31 subsidised, low-cost housing schemes were initiated between 1970 and 1980…The estimated costs were some $500M. In addition…several housing schemes, including North Ruimveldt, Meadow Brook, and Lodge Backlands, were developed by the CH&PA.” There were also several schemes in rural areas for PNC supporters, such as De Kendren, Crane, Wisroc. They were all African-Guyanese- dominated, Indian-Guyanese had to “squat”.
The PNC instituted an External Trade Bureau (ETB) to control importation of all goods; distributed through the intriguingly named “Knowledge Sharing Institute” (KSI) – most located in African-Guyanese-dominated areas. In Linden, there were 11 KSI outlets, while in the sugar belt stretching across the Coast, and with several times the population, there were five. These destroyed Indian-Guyanese importation and “shop-keeping”/retail sector.
Co-operatives were the vehicle for transforming the “small” African Guyanese man into a “real man”. The newly established Co-op Bank provided loans, while the Ministry of Co-ops provided land, implements, seeds and technical help. The Guyana Marketing Corporation, Chaired by ASCRIA’s Eusi Kwayana, provided markets. Co-ops paid no taxes on profits.
Unlike present claims, the MMA, which opened up 54,000 acres for rice and cash crops, was opened up to both African and Indian-Guyanese from Region 5. Unfortunately, most Africans sub-leased their lands to Indian-Guyanese farmers.
Their motto remained, “Laboro, ergo sum” – I work, therefore I am” – even when unprofitable.