MY TURN | CROPS AND CASH

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NOTHING could be more soothing to the ears than the announcement by President David Granger that state lands would be given to former sugar workers for crops and housing, and that cash transfers from oil revenues would be made to help in the education of the nation’s schoolchildren.

The President made those disclosures last week when he addressed huge APNU+AFC Coalition elections rallies at Leonora, West Coast Demerara, and at Anna Regina on the Essequibo Coast.

Recently I had penned a Letter to newspaper editors in which I said that when the coalition returns to office after the March 2 elections, it would continue to support the sugar industry and to ensure diversification that would enlist the involvement of sugar workers.

“Sugar workers will be given plots of land on the estates to pursue farming, aquaculture and rearing of livestock, and will receive assistance to make them productive partners in Guyana’s development,” I wrote in affirmation of a policy by government.

The President elaborated that he would set up a State Land Resettlement Commission to allocate lands to former sugar workers. These workers were displaced from their jobs when operations at the seven estates were merged to have three grinding estates, although 10,000 jobs were saved.

While some of the laid-off workers found alternative jobs, others turned to agriculture on lands where they once cultivated sugar canes. At Wales, since 2017 several former workers cultivated cash-crops and rice and reared cattle.

The opening up of lands to former sugar workers augurs well for our country. At a time when we have started to produce oil, we should also boost agriculture, fishing and livestock ,so that Guyana will have balanced development based on fuel and food.

CASH TRANSFER
The APNU+AFC Government has also agreed to diverse representation for cash transfers from oil proceeds to our people. Though the amount and the criteria for transfers have not been placed in the public domain, President Granger has identified one group of persons who would benefit from cash transfers – our schoolchildren.

Under the APNU+AFC Government, parents benefitted tangibly from the President’s Five Bs Project under which schoolchildren have been provided with boats, buses, bicycles, books and book-bags. A significant number of children get at least one hot meal daily.
A new impetus would be given to the quest of the Guyanese people for the good life with assurances of more crops from former sugar fields and meaningful cash transfers for our children’s education.

DISPOSABLE INCOMES
These would boost disposable incomes and would complement the 77 per cent rise in salaries to public servants, increases in old age pensions and social assistance, reduction of corporate taxes from 40 to 25 per cent, lowering of VAT by 2 per cent and exemption from VAT of small businesses. Since the coalition took office, thousands of workers who earn less than $780,000 have been removed from the income tax net, and this tax-free threshold could be raised to a flush one million dollars in the near future.

The coalition government has been cautious in making promises that could not be delivered in the face of rising expectations. In Essequibo last week, I reminded farmers that we had promised to find markets for their rice and paddy, and we did. Guyana today sells to some 35 countries, and though it produced in excess of one million metric tonnes of paddy last year, unless new lands are brought into rice production it is likely that we would be unable to supply these markets. It is in this context that the announcement by the President would result in rice production being given a further boost on lands in the sugar belt that would be given to former sugar workers.

ANTI-NAGA MANIACS
While I would like to stay on the subject I like best – oil and soil – I was distracted by the frenzied response by the anti-naga maniacs to my remarks that there should be no more one-party rule in Guyana. (Guyana Times, 20/01/01).

That was the consistent position of PPP’s founder-leader, Dr. Cheddi Jagan. In 1964 he had proposed a coalition between the PPP and the PNC, with joint premiership. Ten years later, he proposed the formation of a National Front, and a Front Government. He then entered into talks with the PNC for a national unity government which might have happened, had it not been for the sudden (and in this context, untimely and tragic) death of Forbes Burnham.

Cheddi Jagan always wanted an end to winner-takes-all-politics. But the image painted of him as an avowed communist stood in his way to promote a truly nationalist government.
But the wind started to blow in his direction towards the end of the Cold War when the celebrated West Indian author, V.S. Naipaul, described him as an “ethical Marxist,” a reformed communist.

MULTI-PARTY DEMOCRACY
Cheddi and I worked jointly on articles in which he asserted that “multi-party democracy is the wave of the future.” That was meant to be a commentary against one-party rule in Cuba. I repackaged his reformed ideas in a publication titled “Retracing our footsteps in a changing world.”

In 1989 I projected this new liberal democratic image of Cheddi Jagan when I was invited to the U.S. State Department. I was warmly received by then Secretary of State, Sally Cowal. She told me then, “tell Mr. Jagan that the United States will support free and fair elections in Guyana.”

At home, Cheddi Jagan initiated talks with opposition parties which had formed what I named as the Patriotic Coalition for Democracy (PCD). We were working to put up a consensus presidential candidate and a joint slate for the planned 1990 elections, but those talks broke down.

ONE-PARTY RULE
For 50 years in post-independent Guyana, we were saddled with one-party rule by both the PNC and the PPP. When the six-party, APNU+AFC coalition contested the 2015 elections and emerged victorious to form the government, Guyana finally broke the back of one-party rule.

I am convinced that Guyana should not return to one-party government. It is a recipe for dictatorship, authoritarianism and, in the case of the post-Jagan PPP, to arbitrary, Stalinist rule.

I repeat: the excesses under the post-Jagan PPP government were due mainly to one-man, one-party, corrupt and dictatorial rule.

Between 2000 and 2011, the Stalinists brazenly subverted internal party processes and resorted to selection rigging. Though ranking amongst the party’s top five leaders, I was repeatedly purged from the leadership.

Again, the spectre of PPP’s one-party, puppet rule hovers darkly over Guyana.
Throughout my political life I have promoted alliance politics, so I cannot in good conscience allow this to pass. So I urge all Guyanese not to be swayed by emotionalism or ethnic appeals. They should vote against the return of one-man, one-party rule.