In his article, “The Ethnic Trap Facing the Government”, Dr Hinds claimed, “The PNC, while in power, made ethnic gestures to African- Guyanese, but they were very timid about implementing policies that would fundamentally close the economic gap between the major ethnic groups or directly benefit African- Guyanese.”
I find this a very unfortunate assertion because, as suggested by Dr Henry Jeffrey, it flies in the face of the facts. But to state these facts precipitate another round of “who got what”, which is ultimately a no-win proposition unless it is part of an initiative to ensure equitable distribution of Guyanese resources. In an ethnically fractured, poverty-stricken polity like ours, unless genuine representatives of the various groups – read ethnic groups – are at the table, there will inevitably be not only the odious comparisons but the even more odious ethnically unequal distribution of “spoils”.
Take the PNC regime of 1964-1992: it closed the gap between the two groups by unfortunately not only by directing resources towards the African-Guyanese sector but by implementing policies that immiserating broad swathes of Indians. While the PNC would justify their policies within the model of “Import Substitution Industrialization”, where funds is squeezed from the agricultural sector to finance industrialization, in the Guyanese context, this had negative ethnic implications.
In 1964, the PNC inherited an economy dominated by colonial interests, where Indians had created their major economic niche outside of sugar in rice and had followed the Portuguese and Chinese to gain a toehold in the retail trade. By 1964 rice production had reached 275,000 tons and was the largest employer of Indians.
However, the PNC after 1965 mandated all rice be bought and sold through the government. It fixed a low domestic price and then exported the rice at much high prices. They thus imposed a huge 118% implicit tax on rice farmers and destroyed the industry, which, by 1985, had shrunk to 95,000 tons. Examining the proposed spending in the PNC’s 1972-76 development plan, social scientist 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, Indians formed the bulk of the low-paying field labour and were pitifully poor. But when profit sharing was arbitrated in 1968, they were able to have an average of a month’s salary as “back pay”. In 1974, however, when sugar prices spiked the PNC government imposed a levy on the profits that scooped off $256M by 1976. Neither the workers got their share of profits (60%) not the industry their 40% portion for reinvestment in field and factory. Sugar never really recovered from that period’s misguided policies.In terms of its expenditures, the Military and Militarised units such as GDF, GNS, Peoples Militia were boosted absorbed the bulk of the African youths. By 1976, according to Prof Ken Danns, Guyana had “Disciplined Forces” with a combined strength of 21,000 from 2631 in 1965 and 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 the spending moved from $22M or 8% of the budget in 1966 to $113 or 14.2% of the budget in 1976.After its nationalisation programme, by 1977, the Government 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 approximately 27,000 to 124,000. The upper and middle class supporters of the PNC were empowered through jobs in the enlarged public sector, including the nationalized industries) and the boards, and Directorships of the 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.
Housing was another area to transfer wealth to its supporters. The 1972-76 Feed, Clothe and House the Nation” plan called for the building of 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 several schemes in rural areas for PNC supporters, such as De Kendren, Crane, Wisroc. However, Burnham admitted in his address to the nation on 14 December, 1976: “Our statistics show, however, . . . that we have built 33,000 units.”
The PNC instituted an External Trade Bureau (ETB), which took over all importation of goods into the country, distributed through the intriguingly named “Knowledge Sharing Institute” (KSI) – most located in African-Guyanese dominated areas. In Linden, there were 11 KSI while in the sugar belt stretching across the Coast, and with several times the population, there were five. These put most petty retailers – predominantly Indians – out of business.The co-op scheme was the vehicle for the “small” African man, to become a “real man”. The newly established Co-op Bank provided loans while the Ministry of Cooperatives provided land, implements, seeds and technical help and the Guyana Marketing Corporation (under the Chairmanship of Mr. Eusi Kwayana) provided a market. Co-ops paid no taxes on profits. Unlike what is being claimed today, the MMA which opened up some 54,000 acres for rice and other agricultural crops was opened up to both Africans and Indians from Region 5. Unfortunately, most Africans sub-leased their lands to Indian farmers.