Tony Vieira's Comments
18 October 2017


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Poverty Eradication
(Aired 18 September 2002)

    There is an old saying that there are lies, dam lies and statistics. In 2001 this country put together a 10 year development policy for the nation which was called the National Development Strategy. This huge strategy document of 348 pages which was done by civil society and financed by the Carter Center, told us what was wrong with the country and what we have to do to stimulate growth in the economy and to eradicate poverty.

   Recently the International Monetary Fund issued a press release telling us that we were getting a 73 million US loan which will be used to help us with our balance of payment problems and help us to implement fiscal policies which will have the effect of eradicating poverty. This loan was prompted by a report called the Poverty Reduction Strategy and which was submitted to the World Bank by the government.

   I presume that these two studies were done in the same country and used the same data and criteria. I say so because the two documents are in conflict in many areas, one created by the Government and one created by civil society.

   Here are some examples; in the study which I will call the civil strategy, the NDS, it tells us that it is strange that over the past 10 years the REDUCTION of poverty was mainly in the towns and environs, this contradicts the fact that the real improvement in our economic performance was in the Sugar, Rice, Timber and Gold industries all located in the rural and interior regions of the country; so how is it possible that the rural areas of the country are still in abject poverty?  Over the past 10 years the sugar industry's wage bill increased from 4.5 billion dollars to 12.6 billion dollars, this means that the sugar workers got huge wage increases, rice production doubled in the same period 150,000 tons in 1992 to 300,000 tons in 1999, creating more jobs in the rural areas, how is it possible that after receiving these huge increases in salaries, payments and production the rural areas are still showing no decrease in poverty levels, it is strange indeed....

    However this strange aspect, the figures reflect, between 1993 and 1999 does not seem to be strange to me at all, it was cooked or was incompetently done. Since we are comparing figures complied by the World Bank in 1993 and the Guyana Bureau of Statistics in 1999. I will not do the Bureau of Statistics a disservice by not telling you that they have huge impediments in their staffing needs to conduct a study such as this, since they are untrained and understaffed and therefore I will refrain from accusing them of manufacturing the statistics, but I have my suspicions about them.

   The government's strategy tells us that before 1993 the country was in total economic chaos and that they attracted private investment, increased production in the sugar, rice, gold and timber Industries allowing per capita income to increase from 380 US dollars to 750 US dollars. But that over the past three years economic growth has slowed due to exogenous factors including a decline in commodity prices, unfavorable weather conditions and a difficult domestic political and industrial environment.

   The civil strategy however suggests that Hoyte's Economic Recovery Programme ran out of the momentum it had gained from 1992 to 1996 because of mismanagement of the economy, incompetence, corruption, ambivalence to investors etc. after 1992. So I must ask the question again, are these two documents which are supposed to compliment each other written for the same country? And they were more or less written at the same time, ladies and gentlemen the NDS about 10 months before the Guyana Poverty Reduction Strategy.

   The truth is that this government attracted no private investment unless you want to call Power and Light an investment, reaped the benefit of the better management of the Sugar industry by Booker Tate which the PPP did not employ and Omai which now earns more foreign exchange than the sugar industry but which began activities before the PPP got into power, are what has contributed to our growth. Are you still going to pay one billion dollars to manage GUYWA for us, Mr. Baksh? I don't have to say one word about the Power and Light deal ladies and gentlemen every Guyanese knows what a disaster that is.

   The Civil Strategy [the NDS] tells us, that it is almost inescapable to conclude that the urban change or the improvement in the poverty situation among people in the areas around the towns, had little to do with official economic policy, but was largely a result of a parallel, non official activities. This means drug money, money laundering and smuggling!  

   The government's strategy on the other hand tells us that in 1992 they accelerated the pace of economic and structural reforms by 1. Improving the structural and supervisory framework of the bank of Guyana. 2. Reforming the financial sector. 3. Improving the legal and regulatory framework. 4. Reforming the judicial system and the deeds registry. And an ambitious privatization was also implemented.

   So in the first 7 pages of the government's strategy, we find major discrepancies between it and the NDS. I decided to check which one was wrong. Here is what I found, these alleged Government reforms did not take place!

   The Bank of Guyana is a disaster, they have not even attempted to address the very high interest rates currently applicable in the country which is bankrupting everybody, and the Accountant General cannot balance the consolidated fund properly according to Auditor General Goolsaran. As for reforming the financial sector I will leave that to people like Christopher Ram and Dr. Clive Thomas but I am unable to find any such reforms. Reform of the judicial system? According to judges Baker and Lewis' report our judicial system is incapable of dealing with the matters before it. I have told you before that as it functions on behalf of the citizens of this country, there is no judicial system and therefore no justice.

     Both the government's submission to the World Bank and the NDS tell us that the deeds registry is in complete disarray, the moribund method of getting transports is ridiculous.

   How dare my Government submit lies to the World Bank and how dare the World Bank lend us this money before determining that the poverty strategy outlined by the government was true.

   ladies and gentlemen I would like to remind you of the commentary I did in which I quoted Professor Thomas of the university of Maryland who studied the inner workings of the 41 HIPC nations on this planet, and I remind you that he told us that government agencies in these heavily indebted countries are corrupt, they falsify documents, they produce inaccurate data, they employ family and friends to carry out their own personal corrupt practices and are hardly the proper intermediaries to carry out philanthropic agenda, and that poverty reduction money hardly ever gets to the people who need it most, and for whom the money was allocated in the first place. So he advocated that the money should be allocated to private agencies to implement these loans. This government has 21 ministers the study done by the British in 1991 tells us that we need 11, where in the government's strategy does it tell us that they intend to reduce this huge and expensive bureaucratic burden on the nation, the answer is simple,.... nowhere.

   Now we come to the biggest joke of all and it is on page 12 of the government's strategy and I quote "in recognition of poverty, the Government developed the National Development Strategy" end quote, so now the PPP developed the NDS which is sitting in the parliament without ONE of its provisions being implemented for over a year, so after contradicting the NDS and a lot of its conclusions the Government now tells us that they have developed and adopted this strategy, but do not properly address the following as contained in the NDS 1. The NIS does not function in the best interest of the poor. 2. SIMAP is riddled with political interference and may not be functioning in the interest of the poor. 3. Of the 500 Non Governmental Organizations in the country very few of them are self supporting in a significant way and, because of the structure of party politics in the country, a frequent complaint is that political elements have penetrated community based organizations.

      Finally, and to me this is the most frightening part of the government's strategy for implementing this huge amount of money over the next 3 years,  the Government tell us that the poverty reduction program rests on 4 pillars, the first pillar will be the central Government with emphasis on line Ministries and agencies, the second pillar will be our not so esteemed Regional Democratic Councils, the third will be the Neighborhood Democratic Councils and the fourth Pillar will be the Village Councils. In other words Freedom House will control all of it.  

    No inclusion of the private sector, no inclusion of the opposition, no inclusion of civil society, on a governing oversight body to ensure that this money is not wasted on luxuries for the ruling party's hierarchy, and this tells me that it will be fuel for more corruption than ever, I predict that none of this money, will ever find its way to our poor Indo or Afro Guyanese brothers and sisters in this country. I hope that I am wrong, but that does not happen often.