…President says PPP left behind massive debts, marginalisation and a divided Guyana
…coalition has done its best in just four years to turn around the decline
By Lisa Hamilton
AS Guyanese prepare to head to the polls next year, President David Granger has been speaking about some the challenges faced by his administration – one of which is he said was the inheriting of a number of woes from the former PPP Administration which have somewhat curtailed the pace at which the government wanted to move.
As a guest on Hits and Jams 94.1 BOOM FM programme Hot Seat on Thursday, the President listed some of these as the sugar industry which was drowning in debt; the failed $1.3B Fiber Optic Cable Project; the low-producing Skeldon Sugar Factory; uncooperative Regional leaders; expensive debts to the court and poor law enforcement management. “These were expensive burdens that we had to bear,” the President said. His account detailed that the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) left a “bad hand” behind which was a major draw-back to development for Guyana although the coalition has done its best, in just four years, to turn around the decline.
In 2015, when the President Granger-led administration came into government, it wasted no time in calling for Local Government Elections which have since been held twice in four years after a 23-year hiatus. This move did not only remove the Interim Management Committees that were running the municipalities of Guyana, but also created an avenue for new townships to be formed. However, the President noted that even with new leaders which were elected by the people in each Region, members of the PPP/C refused to work along with central government for the development of their communities.
RESISTANCE FROM PPP MEMBERS
“[There was much] resistance that we got from the Chairmen of the regions which were elected on the PPP ticket, particularly Region One, Region Two, Region Three, Region Five, Region Six and Region Nine. This is serious because here we placed a lot of emphasis on the development of the regional system to give people in those areas a better quality of life but those chairmen who were elected on the PPP ticket refused to corporate with the Minister of Communities. He would invite them to meetings, they wouldn’t come. He’d give instructions, they wouldn’t obey,” he said.
The President surmised that it was almost as though the PPP aimed at waging a civil war in the country which has been a major obstacle to regional development. This is not different from the former state of community development in Guyana which the Head of State said saw varying degrees of assistance given to villages based on their political choice. “The PPP divided the country into green villages and red villages. The green villages were the PNC villages and the red villages were the PPP villages. That is a form of discrimination and we’ve overcome that now. We’re trying to provide services to all communities,” he said.
“A lot of people, all over the country, suffered because of the discriminatory practices of the Jagdeo regime…Mr. Jagdeo, he knows truthfully where the emphasis of public expenditure had its greatest impact and it was not in African communities. I’m not going to quarrel about who is rich and who is poor; he knows what he did.” Another challenge expounded upon by the President was the school dropout rate which he stated was “extremely high”.
In 2014, then Assistant Chief Education Officer (ACEO), Leslyn Charles, had pointed out that the majority of school drop-outs were males and the secondary school graduation rates of males were below 30 per cent. In 2008 the Stabroek News reported that between 2004 and 2007, 13,844 students dropped out of the primary school system, representing four per cent of the national population.
According to the Chief Planning Officer of the Ministry of Education, Evelyn Hamilton, the situation was much worse, particularly in primary and secondary schools in hinterland areas like Regions One and Nine where rates were more than triple. The President said that the drop-out rate has been reduced while the government is also tackling unemployment and youth empowerment through avenues such as the Guyana Youth Corps which was years ago absorbed by the National Service which was discontinued by the PPP. “The PPP shut down the National Service which meant that a lot of young people did not get the opportunity to seek employment…many of those who looked forward into going in to the National Service to get an opportunity to resume their education, their training, were just abandoned because the PPP shut down the National Service. It was my job to reestablish the Guyana Youth Corps,” he said.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR YOUTHS
This was complimented by projects such as the Linden Enterprise Network (LEN); the Hinterland Employment and Youth Service (HEYS) programme; Sustainable Livelihood and Entrepreneurial Development (SLED) which help youths to acquire funding to start their own businesses.
Some of the other efforts he noted which have helped to turn the tide were improved wages, increased pensions and increases of the income tax threshold; four new towns; taking the Venezuela dispute to the court; upgrading the capacity of law enforcement and improved telecommunication, water and infrastructure facilities.
Speaking to one aspect, the President said: “We’ve improved wages for working people in a dramatic fashion. A teacher who might have been earning maybe $34,000 at the start of our Administration is probably getting well over $70,000 now. Ordinary working people are better off.”
Meanwhile the creation of four new towns in Guyana, in different Regions and all within just one year, leads to economic development by encouraging infrastructural extension, investment, information and innovation. In other efforts to bridge the gap between the hinterland and the coast, the President said that the quality of education in schools have been improved country-wide with improved performances experienced in the hinterland and coast.
Earlier this year, the Nasdaq Stock Exchange named the fastest growing economy in the world while the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has predicted that Guyana’s economy could grow as much as over 80 per cent in 2020. “I think, as a whole, the country has avoided some of the pit falls of other Caribbean countries and we have been able to guarantee good economic return consistently,” the President said, adding: “We inherited and very bad hand and that is why next year in the General and Regional Elections we’re confident that we will be able to continue what was started in 2015.”