Nov 28, 2017
There are moments you regret that the political side to Burnham was visionless because his economics was visionary. Burnham’s essential contribution to post-colonial development was the creation of indigenous, self-reliant pathways. I did National Service while as a UG student but there was a political ugliness in National Service as opposed to its phenomenal, developmental side.
It was no other a person than President Granger himself who said that National Service was laudable but it was the way it was implemented. Students who paid to attend UG (in those days it was expensive; I couldn’t afford it; people helped me) found out that in their last year of studies they had to do National Service or leave.
The state cannot treat people like this. If National Service was about hinterland development and in exchange for participation in such an innovative pathway, UG education would be free then you have to phase it in, giving people a choice.
National Service, introduced in 1976, remains the impeccable example of the irony of the leadership of President Burnham. Inside his mind were transformational values that Guyana needed but inside his mind was the simultaneous irony that his pioneering visions were not accompanied by respect for freedom and choice.
I am getting on in age and I will never, I mean never, change my analysis of Burnham – he was good and he was bad. The good in him is what we need in Guyana today – the desire to alleviate poverty and give lower economic classes an opportunity to share in the country’s wealth.
This is missing in the Granger/Nagamootoo combination. It will not happen once the ANPU+AFC formation as we know it today continues in office.
We have a firm neoliberal regime in power in Guyana and the signs are ubiquitous that there will be no change of direction. I continue to say that I mean nothing personal but the largest expression of this neoliberal bandwagon could be observed at the way the UG administration spends money.
The statement by the Minister of Finance that there is no fiscal space to give a bonus in the 2018 budget to public servants, tells the story of a government that does not have a Burnhamite perspective on developmental economics.
Minister Jordan used the phrase,” fiscal space” to explain why that bonus could not be paid. I will come back to that term and apply it to the billboard near my home with Minister Jordan’s face on it but some simple economic thinking first.
A government is like a private individual. It gets an income and it spends it. A teacher has a mortgage, children at school, an aging car, water tanks that haven’t been cleaned for ages, bills to pay etc.
One weekend he goes on a big splurge and spends a huge sum. Simple economics come in here. Could he have afforded that weekend abandonment? Every cent he wasted could have gone to making family life better by spending it where it was more needed.
No one knows the pitfalls of this budget waywardness more than Frederick Kissoon. I saw my dad waste his small income where it could have gone into a family of seven children and a wife.
My dad drank heavily but didn’t have money to buy at least one GCE textbook for me. He never gave me even a cent towards my UG fees. Let us return to the Minister’s statement of fiscal space.
Guyana is a poor country. No oil money will get us rich even in decades and decades to come. It has to be careful how it spends money because Guyana needs modern science, modern technology, modern infrastructure, modern medicine, modern income levels. So we don’t have fiscal space to pay public servants an end of year bonus. No problem! The money isn’t there; citizens should not get angry.
But the government found money to put up a number of billboards around the country extolling the virtues of the 2018 budget. These are large edifices in colour with the gargantuan image of the Finance Minister.
These structures have to be removed after the 2018 budget is passed in two weeks’ time. I am assuming the project cost a few million dollars.
That sum could have gone into toilet renovation in a few schools or public lavatories at police stations or upgrading the lunchrooms at some ministries or spent at some cottage hospital in far flung areas.
We have money to create fiscal space it is just that we don’t know how to utilize in proper ways that fiscal space.