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WPA calls on coalition to include direct oil money transfers to poor people in election promises

Professor Clive Thomas

The Working People’s Alliance (WPA) appeared set to intensify its agitation for direct transfers of oil money to the poor and needy to be included in the manifesto of the incumbent APNU+AFC coalition, but refused to say what would be its next move if its idea is not taken on board.

Already, Finance Minister Winston Jordan and former Finance Minister, Carl Greenidge have poured cold water on the idea, suggesting that it would not be an incentive for people to be gainfully employed.

But WPA Executive member, Professor David Hinds said the cash transfer initiative that was proposed more than one year ago by Distinguished Professor of Economics, Clive Thomas more than one year ago was among a package of measures his political party would be advocating for.

“Tune in, tune in, tune in! That’s our answer. Tune in to the future. At this point where we are is that it has been formally put on the table. It is a part of a menu of policy positions that the APNU intends to put in the manifesto,” he said, adding the APNU was yet to finalise what would be included and excluded from the manifesto.

“If God forbids, and I am not a praying man, that it doesn’t get into the manifesto, tune in,” he said. Hinds acknowledged that the People’s National Congress Reform-dominated coalition has not taken on board any of the Working People’s Alliance’s initiatives since coming to power in 2015. He, however, believed that Guyana would be better off under the coalition than the return of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) to office in the upcoming general and regional council elections.

Hinds said people could fight over contracts and local content, the welfare of the working poor still has to be addressed frontally. “We are saying when you are finished fighting over your contracts and your local content, those poor people want to know what is in it for us and so we have taken the lead and said we are going to deal with that and we will speak on your behalf,” said Hinds, a Political Science Professor.

Given the popularity of the idea of direct cash transfers, WPA Executive Member, Tacuma Ogunseye argued that “we believe it would be almost politically impossible for the coalition government not to include it in its manifesto.” Asked if the strategy was not included in the package of election promises, he said the WPA would continue the campaign during and after the elections “until we win it”.

Professor Thomas has recommended that the very poor who could not readily access health or education must be able to draw down some of the oil revenues. Hinds has already scoffed at concerns by government that oil transfers would encourage laziness rather than seeking employment. Reacting, Hinds and Ogunseye have already said they would find it hard to believe that Guyanese would not work almost all year round and await a cash transfer once per year.

Carl Greenidge, an economist, last month made known government’s position one year after WPA Professor Thomas had tabled the controversial proposal at the FAM-Buxton. “I’m afraid I can’t offer you that solution which Clive was privileged to offer,” he said.

The former Finance Minister has said government was wary that cash disbursements directly to Guyanese could result in them becoming dependent on the state.

“The economists speak about the price of labour for the price of labour. How will those who are working feel about those who are not working getting a grant and whether you”ll find…that they might as well stay home if that sort of money is being shared. ‘Let me stay home and collect it’,” said Greenidge.

Professor David Hinds (left) and former Foreign Minister Carl Greenidge.

However, Professor Hinds had rebutted Greenidge, arguing that it is government that has to plan to ensure that ordinary people benefit from some of the oil revenues while the state uses the remainder for other things. “We have to give them some hope that there is something in this for them…They want money, they want cash in hand. It is the responsibility of the government to find work for them,” said Hinds, an outspoken critic of the coalition of which the WPA is a member.

But, the strongest rebuttal came from WPA Executive Member, Tacuma Ogunseye who slammed Greenidge’s position from the floor of the well-attended forum at the Friendship Primary School, East Coast Demerara.

Noting that Afro-Guyanese do not own 10 percent of the country’s economy, he rhetorically questioned whether they were really not interested in having a greater stake.

He challenged Greenidge’s logic that cash-transfers might be an incentive not to work. “We so stupid that we don’t want to own it and you’re going to tell me if we give people cash transfers…You want to tell me that all employed persons, because their households getting cash transfers, let us say one time per year on the 31st of October, he or she won’t work for the whole year just to wait until that cash transfer to come to eat? Nonsense!”

Ogunseye called on the authorities to “stop playing games with the poor”. He warned that the governing coalition risked being back in the opposition if at least five percent of the unemployed do not vote.

He acknowledged that at least one or two percent would not be employed.

Professor Thomas has said each poor Guyanese household should get US$5,000 annually and that money could be linked to set targets for moving children from work into school and improving nutrition.