The Working People’s Alliance (WPA) on Thursday said if A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) refuses to meet to discuss and work out arrangements for direct transfers of oil wealth to the poor Guyanese, it will whip up support among ordinary people to put pressure on government to accept and implement the idea.
“We expect logically- and I think that’s the best route to go- if we take the matter to the people and the people show enough concern, the parties won’t have an option but to discuss that,” Distinguished Economics Professor, Clive Thomas told a news conference.
However, in the context of a virtual absence of consultations among APNU members of which the WPA is one, he hoped that Guyanese would intensify pressure on government to put the idea of conditional direct cash transfers on the table ahead of the 2020 general elections. “I’m expecting that the pressure coming from the electorate would make sure that these matters are discussed,” he said.
WPA Executive Member, Dr. David Hinds said it was time to mobilise in the communities in favour of receiving financial support at the end of the year and possibly engage entities such as the Trades Union Congress and the Private Sector Commission. Party Chairperson, Tabitha Sarabo said WPA plans to seek feedback from the grassroots with the hope that government would eventually take on board the proposals.
Tacuma Ogunseye, who is also a WPA Executive Member, said his party would have to consider whether to accept a suggestion that the matter should be made a campaign issue for the Local Government Elections scheduled for November 12, 2018.
Thomas, a former Director of the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Guyana stressed the importance of finalising all the technical arrangements for cash transfers in 2019 beyond his suggestion. Areas, he said, that have to be ironed out are the functioning of the scheme, intended beneficiaries and how the benefits would be paid.
He remarked that no government minister has ever consulted him on oil and gas, although he has been writing on the subject in the local newspapers for the past two years. Earlier this year, a team of foreign experts had come to Guyana and held a one-day meeting with the President and his Cabinet.
In apparent reference to Finance Minister, Winston Jordan’s preference for cash to be transferred to projects for ordinary Guyanese instead of putting liquid cash in the hands of ordinary Guyanese,
Responding criticisms of direct cash transfers, Professor Thomas said there was no need to worry about inflation because the amount would be limited to about 5 percent of annual net revenues. He lambasted critics who claimed that the estimated annual payout per person of US$5,000 would result in spending on alcoholic beverages, marijuana and parties amounted to “an insult to the working people”. “We’ll find some people who’ll do that but in the generality, most poor people want to get out of poverty and they know best the means in which they can try to do that,” he said.
Professor Thomas welcomed the WPA’s decision to adopt his proposal, saying it would empower poor people to work on schemes and plans instead of relying on government for incentives and tax relief. “We are trying to find a direct means of giving income to the poor and the powerless in this country and among that category, I think, most of them, the majority of them do not pay income tax now so it’s no point giving them a tax relief,” he said.
Dr. Hinds lamented those who have poured cold water on Professor Thomas’ idea of direct cash transfers to the poor while all along paying lip-service to fighting poverty. Responding directly to Finance Minister Winston Jordan’s preference for monies to spent on improving schools, health, school-feeding and school uniform programmes, Hinds said cash transfers and those benefits must go together. “It’s not one or the other. It’s all of them and so cash transfer is just part of it,” he said, adding that this is the first time in post-slavery Guyana that the country has had a real opportunity to solve poverty. “Our view is that if we solve the problem of poverty, that will be a big way in terms of solving a lot of the national problems because poverty is holding back countries like Guyana and so we feel that poverty alleviation must be a priority,” said Hinds, a Political Science Professor.
Professor Thomas said there are many schemes that focus on women’s empowerment, improving health, improving education.