I have said before that it is impossible to find sufficient thanks to heap upon the coalition parties for winning the 2015 elections and preventing Guyana going down the tragic path of ethnic domination orchestrated by the PPP/C. I have argued repeatedly in this column that there are only two ways out of Guyana’s ethnic dilemma: the inhuman one the PPP/C set itself and the consensual democratic one, and the fact that the PPP/C failed should have been a signal lesson for the current regime. However, the government has now completed four years in office and notwithstanding its rhetoric about the need for social cohesion, a substantial number of Guyanese believe that it is now set upon a path not unlike that of its predecessor, and are prepared to resist this as best they can. No government can sensibly manage such a divided country, and attempts to do so led the PPP/C into many dark alleys, some of which the APNU+AFC government has already entered.
Like the PPP/C the tone of this government suggests that it is in deep denial. ‘Over these past four years, the policies and programmes of the Coalition Government have favorably impacted every aspect of life in Guyana, from the coastland to the hinterland, and in our riverain and indigenous communities. No government before has done more within such a short span of time.’ It is the last sentence that concerns me. I believe that taking context and the statistics easily available to me into consideration, an assessment of a few of the important and verifiable elements of this statement will prove that it is no more than a Goebbelsian boast.
Firstly, is it true that no government before has done more within such a short span of time than the APNU+AFC to maintain a stable and growing economy? In the first four years of the PPP/C government (1993 to 1996) annual GDP growth averaged 7.4 % and even in it’s the last four years (2012 to 2015) the annual average GDP growth was 4.3%. In the four years of the AFC+APNU coalition, the economy grew on average at about 3.2% a year.
Secondly, is it fair to say that no government before has done more within such a short span of time as APNU+AFC in relation to increases in salaries, pensions and social assistance for the public sector and general population? The PPP/C came to government in October 1992, and by a circular dated 13 April 1993, the government raised the minimum wage that was $131.49 per day in 1992 to $174.17 per day as from 1st July 1992, and to $191 from 1st January, 1993 – some 46%. Indeed, during Cheddi Jagan’s four years in office, the minimum wage rose by 180% from $131.49 per day in 1992 to some $370 per day in 1997, the year he died. Unfortunately, this cannot be said of the coalition government: the minimum wage that was $39,500 in 2015 was $64,200 in 2018, an increase of about 62.5%. Even taking inflation (7% and falling in 1993), this is another false statement.
Thirdly, can the government sustain the argument that no government before has done more within such a short span in terms of the social sector, education, health and housing, financing and outcomes? Utilising the World Bank’s World Development Indicators, which for Guyana in this category starts in 1999: in the four years to 2002 education expenditure averaged 23.75% of government expenditure. For the two years 2016 and 2017 for which there are figures under the APNU+AFC the average is 13.5% of government expenditure. Regardless of their shortcomings of these comparisons they suggest that nothing spectacular has occurred in education financing.
So far as output is concerned it is legitimate to project from one’s starting place and in the final year (2014) of the PPP/C government, passes at grades 1 to 3 at the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CXC) were 60.72%: the average for the four years of the APNU+AFC government is 62.7%. This is nothing to write home about except for a spike to 69.1% in 2018 (such spikes are not uncommon, to improve performance in English and mathematics, in 2011 the Ministry of Education began a pilot project in 41 secondary schools and it accredited the 10 point spike in grades 1 to 3 mathematics to that project). At the time the Ministry also reported an event that points to enormous possibilities if only the system can be geared to make the results of this kind of focus self-sustaining. ‘East Ruimveldt Secondary School, achieved a 41% pass rate, an increase of 37% from last year’s dismal 4%, while Zeeburg Secondary saw an increase to a 65% pass rate from 30% last year.’
The situation is similar where the health sector is concerned. Using the WDI which begins at 2000 for the health sector, in the four years to 2003 expenditure on health as a percent of government expenditure was 7.4%. In 2014 the final year of the PPP/C government that figure was 8.6% but for the available two years of the present government 2015 and 2016 expenditure on health averaged 7.5% of general government expenditure. In terms of output the more troublesome health indicators: for example, the maternal mortality rate per 100,000 live births, remain a problem to be addressed. It was 171 in 1990, 205 in 1995, 210 in 2000, 232 in 2005 and 229 in 2015 and it is still hovering around the last number.
Where housing is concerned, I do not believe that anyone will seriously, over any given period, want to compare what the PPP/C accomplished with the performance of the coalition government in the last four years. In 2016, the government received a US$30m loan from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), and the Central Housing and Planning Authority (CHPA) stated its intention to utilise some of it to build and allocate 250 houses costing about $4m each to poor Guyanese citizens. I advised then that ‘with the corruption usually associated with the construction industry, why is the CHPA getting into building and not contracting an institution such as the New Building Society to manage this programme much as it does its own loan portfolio?’ Had it paid attention and established an arms-length arrangement, neither the minister nor her husband would have had to suffer their present discomfort.
There are many self-laudatory general statements in APNU+AFC’s stocktaking of its achievement, and like most people I like news when it’s good. ‘The good news is that the APNU+AFC Coalition Government has brought Guyana, in these past four years, to the door-step of unprecedented wealth with imminent production from our off-shore wells, that hold an estimated 5.5 billion barrels of oil.’ Unfortunately, what is closer to the truth is that the coalition arrived in government at a point at which Guyana was poised to become an extremely wealthy country, but due to its inexperience that wealth has been severely diminished. The hope is that if it remains in government, it will garner the wisdom to try to retrieve some of what has been lost but, if it does not have stomach to do so, it will take the other necessary steps to allow the Guyanese people to achieve the ‘good life’ it has promised!