The recent debate between myself and Joel Bhagwandin, which was kindly hosted by the University of Guyana Student’s Society and its Economics Society was quite an enlightening affair. I want to thank them for furthering our country’s free exchange of ideas. The moot read, “Guyana is not on the right path to development given its newfound oil resources.” If the audience’s reactions are to be believed, I certainly won by some distance, but I am a bit more interested in the nature of their reactions. At times they expressed shock, disgust, general agreement, and jubilant optimism. This tells us quite a bit about the state of affairs in Guyana.
During my presentation, I asked how we could possibly come to grips with the alarming but now commonplace saying, “Guyana is not a real place.” The presentation began by pointing out that the government is so far from reality that it erected a frightening monument, the now notorious “jumbie bird” at the Mandela roundabout, which it surely could not have laid eyes on before it was erected. Just imagine that this symbolizes the economy and country taking flight!
In precise terms, however, the IMF Public Investment Management Assessment numbers released in 2017, which chronicle our ability to spend to improve the nation over the long term effectively, are a perfect way to quantify just how much of a real place Guyana is not. The IMF indicates the Guyana government loses 41 cents of every dollar spent through incompetence and corruption, far more than the Latin America and Caribbean average of 30 cents or the emerging market average of 27 cents. Their reforms, recommended since 2017, are still to be implemented, despite warnings as recent as 2022.
At the debate, I demonstrated that by merely reforming the Guyana government, we could accomplish everything we’re currently attempting in national budgets but critically also raise 150,000 people out of poverty. Put another way, the only reason 150,000 Guyanese live in poverty is because the PPP refuses to acknowledge that governance in Guyana needs desperate reform. I highlighted a raft of measures the coalition will undertake to address this, from funding the University of Guyana and hiring its graduates to conduct feasibility studies.
The crowd seemed to readily accept that Guyana cannot continue to not be a real place, and even my opponent, in his closing remarks, accepted that there is room for improvement. To be frank, unless the government acknowledges it is in need of tremendous help, it cannot realistically be considered the better alternative to govern Guyana. However, what was especially telling about the crowd’s reaction was that Guyanese have little tolerance for heartless comments and thinking, even if accidental. Can you imagine that onstage my opponent interpreted Guyana’s labor force participation statistics as meaning that half of Guyanese do not want to work?
The crowd gasped in disgust at this comment, to which I promptly replied: “How do you know that? Did you ask them?” Of course, Guyanese may not be seeking work for many reasons, from teen pregnancy to poor formal education. We must address each of these ways our society has failed Guyanese. What we must not do, however, is adopt the attitude that we are comfortable ignoring those in need. But with UNICEF highlighting that 43% of Guyanese live below the poverty line and neither my opponent nor the PPP making any serious reference to poverty, it is hard to argue this isn’t exactly what’s happening. I am glad the crowd demonstrated that they are alone in this thinking.
Economic and Youth Policy Advisor to the Leader of the Opposition,
Opposition Oil and Gas Spokesperson.