One local news outfit proclaimed last week that Bharrat Jagdeo endorsed the unconditional cash transfer proposal of the WPA. This was preposterous fake news. The PPP’s targeted cash transfer programme is very different from the WPA’s proposal. The WPA, with leaders such as David Hinds and Clive Thomas, has proposed that the main use of resources from oil and gas should be the unconditional cash transfers to every household in Guyana, rich and poor, receiving the exact amount. In the WPA’s proposal, the cost will be in excess of $US1B annually, although Guyana is likely to receive less than that amount in the first few years.
The PPP’s targeted and conditional cash transfer programme is radically different from the WPA’s proposal. While the PPP wants every Guyanese to benefit from resources generated from oil and gas, the PPP also wants funds from oil and gas to target the poor and vulnerable. The WPA’s proposal is unconditional, giving a basic income to everyone, an equal amount to the richest and the poorest. In the WPA’s proposal, a family with several vehicles, a big house, a big bank account, will receive the same benefit as a family with no home, with starvation income. Granger and a street-side vendor will receive the same amount. The PPP thinks this is unfair, grossly inequitable and only increases the financial gap between rich and poor.
The PPP has always governed with a significant cash-transfer policy targeting the poor since it became the Government in 1992. For more than twenty years, the PPP utilised a sizable part of its budget in either direct or indirect targeted cash-transfer programmes. The PPP, therefore, is not proposing to introduce a cash-transfer programme, it is proposing to expand the cash-transfer programme it already had in place, much of which APNU/AFC, including the WPA, dismantled.
In 1992, when Cheddi Jagan became President, the old-age pension programme only benefitted a small group of Guyanese. At the time, the old-age pension was limited to only one member of a family and each family had to become eligible through a “means test”. For example, a family with a home or with a bank account was not eligible. The PPP abolished the means test. Every citizen 65-years or older became eligible for old-age pension. In 1992, the old-age pension was about $200 ($US1) per month for the few who received it. By 2015, it was about $17,000 (about $US90) per month for more than 44,000 Guyanese senior citizens, amounting to almost $10B annually. The PPP has proposed that with oil and gas revenues, senior citizens would benefit from vastly more generous monthly payments.
In 2014, the PPP introduced a direct cash-transfer programme called the “Because We Care” Education Grant. The programme transferred $10,000 annually to every child in school. More than 100,000 children benefitted. The programme distributed more than $1B in 2014 and the PPP explained that the education subsidy would be increased as Government’s resources improved. Had the programme continued (it was terminated by APNU/AFC), it would have risen to $50,000 per child by 2020. With oil and gas revenues, it is likely that families would benefit significantly more through direct child subsidies. The PPP has also announced that soon after they return to Government, they will ensure that education from nursery to university will be free.
Between 2005 and 2014, the PPP introduced a nutrition subsidy programme. The programme provided a direct cash voucher of about $1000 per month for women with children 6 months to 24 months old. This is the transition period for children as they moved from breast milk feeding to regular food. The food that could be purchased included a rigid list of food rich in nutrients and that would ensure balanced-diet for each child. The vouchers were used in certified shops located in the communities where those families lived. In addition, every girl and woman of reproductive age received monthly supplies of nutritional supplements from the health centres. The supplements included vitamins and essential minerals to ensure girls and women had no nutritional deficiencies. The family also received nutritional supplements for all children aged 6 months to 24 months. These cash-transfer programmes (more than $500M annually) were designed to support healthy nutrition in families and specifically targeted children and women of reproductive age. The PPP has proposed to reintroduce and expand this programme with oil and gas revenues.
In the PPP Government, there were several other examples of cash transfers, including waivers for water and electricity bills for senior citizens, a $1M allowance for medical bills for surgery and treatment not available in the public sector, free school books, subsidies for school uniforms, free meals for all hinterland schools, free transportation for hinterland residents for medical services in Georgetown, mortgage subsidies, grants for difficult circumstances and many others. Many of them were closed by APNU/AFC. With oil and gas revenues, the PPP would have the opportunity to improve and introduce several others. These targeted cash-transfer programmes, under the PPP, would focus attention on the poor and the vulnerable in our country.