THE popular “Because We Care” cash grant programme is back, bigger and better than the PPP/C Government’s 2014 version, courtesy of President Irfaan Ali’s PPP/C Government. This education cash grant is an example of non-contributory cash transfers from the consolidated fund to families. Social scientists around the world have shown the effectiveness and efficacy of non-contributory cash transfers to families. For example, in a study published in 2018 by the University of Cambridge, UK, social scientists reviewed 165 studies of non-contributory cash transfers in low and middle-income countries between 2000 and 2015 and concluded that such cash transfers reduced monetary poverty and improved health and nutrition, education, savings and production. Similarly, a 2021 publication from SEED (Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration) reported a study done by a group of social scientists led by Dr. Stacia West of the University of Tennessee and Dr. Amy Castro Baker of the University of Pennsylvania found a cash grant of USD$500 for 24 months to 125 persons living in the town of Stockton positively impacted on their physical and mental health. There was little or no evidence that such non-contributory cash transfers led to negative unintended consequences, such as dependency syndrome or as a disincentive to work etc.
There are numerous studies reflecting the effectiveness and efficacy of non-contributory cash transfers like the “Because We Care” cash transfer programme. UNICEF, the World Bank, IDB and other organisations have declared that cash transfers for children is one of the surest ways to reduce poverty. While hampers, school uniforms, laptops etc. are beneficial, long-term cash transfers to families promote human development by empowering people to make certain decisions for themselves – how best to use the cash transfers to improve the welfare of children and families in general.
But these studies have revealed certain pitfalls. One of the pitfalls is the potential for discrimination. When cash transfer programmes identify sub-groups to benefit, the potential for discrimination abounds. The “Because We Care” cash transfer programme extends benefits to all families with children in public schools and is likely to extend to all families with children in public and private schools. Setting an income limit would have introduced the potential for discrimination.
With such strong evidence for cash transfers, it is shocking that leaders of the PNC (APNU+AFC) would spout nonsense such as the education cash grant is a wasteful way of spending taxpayers’ money and that the programme will promote dependency syndrome in Guyana, leading to greater poverty. These assertions have been uniformly rejected by social scientists in hundreds of studies around the world.
It is in this context that I raise one example of spending taxpayers’ money that makes absolutely no sense. In May 2019, having lost a no-confidence vote and desperately trying to stave off elections, APNU+AFC decided to bring Buju Banton to Guyana for a show. The APNU+AFC Coalition Government it was reported procured $50M worth of tickets for distribution among their supporters. Unfortunately, the Buju Banton splash is just one of the many examples of APNU+AFC squandermania. It is vexing, therefore, that leaders of the PNC and the APNU+AFC Coalition are out dubbing the PPP/C’s government education cash grant as a waste of money.
The cash grant programme for 2021 places $3.2B in the hands of ordinary Guyanese family to spend in the economy. In 2022, 2023, 2024 and 2025, the amount in the form of an education cash grant for every child in school will be more than $3.2B. In fact, Dr. Irfaan Ali and the PPP/C had promised that the cash grants will grow to $50,000 per child by the end of President Irfaan Ali’s first term. This means that in 2025, the Irfaan Ali-led PPP/C Government would put more than $7B in the hands of ordinary families to spend in support of their community economy. The almost $20B that the Irfaan Ali’s PPP/C Government would have placed in the hands of ordinary citizens through just one programme – the education cash grant programme – in President Irfaan Ali’s first term will support the local grocery store, the local seamstresses and tailors, the vendors in the community market, etc. But for the PNC and APNU+AFC, they see this as a waste of money. The PNC clearly believes that only they can decide how best to spend money for people. Buying Buju Banton tickets for a small group of Guyanese citizens is deemed more worthwhile than giving every family with a child in school a cash grant which in turn stimulates the economy. This posture by the PNC is irresponsible and an utter insult to the Guyanese people.
Their assertion that the programme is a total “waste of money” never gained traction. Now PNC leaders are alleging discrimination. But every parent with a child in public schools is eligible to receive the cash grant. If there are two or three or more children from one family, each child is eligible for the grant. It is for this reason that some families are getting multiple grants. The programme is not restricted to any particular region – every family in every region is eligible, once there is a child in school, from nursery to high school. Ethnicity does not matter, religion does not qualify or disqualifies anyone and, definitely, who a family supports or votes for is irrelevant. Every family qualifies, as long as a family has a child in school. So where is the discrimination?
Coretta Macdonald, the General-Secretary of the Guyana Teachers Union and a PNC MP in the APNU+AFC faction has been the most vocal of the PNC leaders against the cash grant programme, dubbing it an absolute waste. It is despicable that Ms. Macdonald claims she represents the teachers, the majority of whom have lauded the PPP/C Government’s programme, whether it is the 2014 version or the 2021 version. Ms. Macdonald spoke both as the General-Secretary of the GTU and a PNC MP. Many teachers have already publicly dissociated themselves from her statement. Some did so by publicly and enthusiastically joining in the distribution of the cash to parents.
Others have come out and vigorously rejected Ms. Macdonald’s demand that they desist from helping the Ministry of Education in the distribution of the cash. No one in the PNC has chastised Ms. Macdonald and, therefore, we must accept that she was stating a position of the PNC and the APNU+AFC Coalition. In fact, Aubrey Norton, another PNC leader, one running to dethrone David Granger as the leader of the PNC, has now come out with his own condemnation of the cash grant to children. Aubrey Norton wants to be leader of the PNC and he is prepared to oppose anything and everything the PPP/C Government does. The PNC (APNU+AFC) stand indicted – they are heartless, but also prepared to stupidly work against science. Just as they are engaged in a silent whisper campaign discouraging people from taking vaccines, so too they are now trying desperately to discourage the education cash grant. The people are rejecting their ant-vaccination whisper campaign and also visibly rejecting the call to end the education cash grant.
Dr. Leslie Ramsammy