The time is now to invest in the poor in Guyana

By: Sase Singh; MSc – Finance, ACCA

Globally, the poor is one of the most discriminated groups, often shut out from the resources and opportunities necessary for a fair chance at economic elevation. In Guyana, the situation is even worse — a small, but well-connected, Georgetown-based elite that is closely attached to ruling politicians usually grabs the majority of the nation’s resources, especially those doled out by the state.
While social class transcends race, gender, or sexual orientation, protection for those in society at the lowest rungs of the ladder is always lacking. These people at the bottom are always left carrying the heavy end of the stick; because, for years, the poor in Guyana were not given adequate protection. They faced severe inequity in treatment, and it has become a national norm.
Take as a case in point how people are treated by the magistracy system on the issue of being caught with a joint of weed. Christopher Gonsalves, a youth from Independence Boulevard in Albouystown, was remanded to prison in October 2018 for his joint of weed; but, on the other hand, five men from Parika were, in September 2018, granted bail for the trafficking of 100 pounds of cocaine. Same system, different outcomes, with the weaker crime securing the harsher penalty.
This is Guyana for you, where the poor and the powerless are indeed blatantly discriminated against by the state machinery, including the judiciary.
With close to 40 per cent of Guyana living in poverty and another 28 per cent living at the borders of poverty, from paycheck to paycheck, it is imperative that the next Government examine human development initiatives that would have a greater impact at protecting the most vulnerable in society.  The expected outcome is national empowerment for all, so that all boats can rise as the tide rises.
Such attention to the very poor can unleash huge pockets of human potential that can feed the economic expansion necessary to transform the nation on the road to becoming the Singapore of the Caribbean. But such schemes require political commitment at the highest levels, unlike what we are observing today, as the most senior of persons occupying the Ministry of the Presidency continue to exhibit strong attitudes of aloofness and indifference to the economic plight of the poor, especially the youths.
For any new Government of Guyana to succeed, it must incubate schemes that pay more attention to ensure the most vulnerable stay in school for more years than they are doing now; have better access to good healthcare; are able to consume more nutritional foods more often; have greater access to the job market, and better access to finance as a means of including them in the decision-making process.
This means education must be community-driven, and education does not only mean passing CSECs; it means more of our poor emancipating themselves from mental poverty. For example, a reduction in teenagers making babies (children making children). All boys and girls between 15 and 16 should be exposed to sex education classes, for which they should be paid a stipend to attend. Those who are “pregnant-free” between the ages of 15 and 19 and are in school should be given a further financial incentive – direct cash transfers. Studies have found those youths who did not have a child between the mentioned ages were more likely to succeed as adults than those who had a child between 15 and 19 years old.
Schools matter, and therefore more attention must be paid to the bottom 25 schools which are doing badly at CSEC. As an emergency programme, those schools must be exposed to a “forensic outcome audit” that would review the entire education process, beginning from the time students arrive to the time they leave in the afternoon, to ascertain the quality of education the students are exposed to, and to take policy actions to get things done. Is the material being taught good enough? And if it is, why are students not absorbing the material? As an addition, more testing should be done more often in those schools. But the big win will be that every child who is getting less than 60 per cent in their subjects will be exposed to a social assistance evaluation done by professional social workers, which means a review of their entire day. Are they safe at home? Are they being allowed to study in conditions suitable to mental growth?
Action should be taken to empower those students to be the best they can be. Each of these schools should be the beneficiary of an after-hours school library, which closes at a reasonable time (let us say 7 pm).  Students who cannot study at home should have the right to use these facilities, and also benefit from a free dinner and a free bus ride home.
These things need investments, no doubt; but isn’t it better to spend money on our future rather than G$1.5 billion on a parade ground for pageantry purposes?