The progress Guyana has made in addressing poverty can be summed up in a
few paragraphs drawn from the just released 106 page Draft Poverty Reduction
Strategy Progress Report 2005 (PRSPR) which offers some of the most
challenging reading since the 48 volumes of Lenin. But the poverty of
intellect which underlies the mass of words is highlighted both by a few
extracts taken from the Report as well as the incredible omission of any
consideration of rice.
Reading the draft, one has to wonder whether any of its authors bothered
to look back at the Report 2004 and whether any editing was done to remove
any inconsistencies in the current Report. Such errors and omissions only
serve to reduce further any intrinsic value of what is increasingly seen as
a political document. Rather than raise legitimate questions about how the
Skeldon sugar strategy will help the impoverished in the rest of the
country, it quotes two conflicting rates of the sugar price cuts by the EU,
neither of which is correct.
Quote: 'The assumptions of the strategy's impact on poverty have not been
quantified because of the dearth of data to conduct a poverty diagnostic and
impact evaluation of policies. Success in monitoring the outcome of the PRSP
in the medium term depends on the implementation of the Social Statistics
Translation: We are spending billions on a strategy but we have no way of
knowing whether it is working.
Last year (2004-05-16) Business Page pointed out that the Government had
placed the cart before the horse by taking three years after the PRS
programme was launched to set up the Monitoring Unit. Now the Unit, without
any hint of embarrassment, tells us that we do not have the mechanisms to
assess the results of the work. It is equally baffling why it has taken six
years to update the poverty survey or why the PRS targets have not been
revised in the 2005 progress report as promised in 2004.
It seems that having published its 2004 Progress Report this Unit, which
is headed by Dr. Coby Frimpong and where the salaries are so huge that they
have to be quoted in US Dollars, went to sleep and completely ignored the
several tasks it undertook to carry out last year. It had promised the
completion of the Household Income and Expenditure Survey in 2004, now it
says that 'the HIES is underway and preliminary results will be available in
The Progress Report is looking increasingly like the annual Budget
Speeches and it is not surprising therefore that several weaknesses of those
Speeches are reflected in successive Progress Reports particularly in
respect of under-achievements. Apart from the Investment Conference, the
following have not been implemented: the establishment of the National
Economic Advisory Council, action necessary to continue the political
dialogue with the main opposition party (instead the dialogue has formally
ended), re-basing of the weights of GDP, enactment of legislation on deposit
insurance, strengthening and reorganisation of the Integrity Commission,
establishment of the commercial court and improving the Justice
Administration (we are now without a Chancellor), holding local government
elections in 2004 (instead the Government sought to impose an unelected
group on the municipalities).
Quote: 'Despite progress with the legal and regulatory framework, the
private sector has not responded in a way that will boost the economy and
create jobs that will reduce the prevalence of poverty.'
Translation: The private sector bears much of the responsibility for the
failure of the government to carry out one of their major responsibilities:
reducing unemployment. Not surprisingly the Report fails to explain why the
Government has not held the Investment Conference promised for 2004 or why
it has done nothing about Go-Invest, which the 2004 report accused of not
having laid 'the groundwork for providing information and company matching
services to the private sector'.
Meanwhile the Minister of Finance continues to ignore the law which
requires him to publish the annual report of the Guyana Revenue Authority
which has been singularly unsuccessful at dealing with the self-employed and
the big ones who with complete impunity, refuse to pay while the wage earner
and the consumer pay the lion's share of taxes. Incongruously, as part of
its poverty reduction strategy the Government is committed to increasing the
already high tax burden on the country which is one of the highest taxed
developing countries in the world. Incongruously too the majority of the
people in the Poverty Unit are paid tax free salaries while imposing
additional burdens on the populace.
Source: IMF and GoG
Quote: Given its commitment to maintaining a sustainable debt profile,
the Government may have to pursue grant resources, reprioritise its
investment and other programmes and seek a waiver in the near term for its
debt sustainability commitments.
Translation: Our poverty projects are premised on further debt relief
and/or aid since we do not have the money to finance the programme.
Quote: Given the changing modalities of debt relief, Guyana's post HIPC
status and trends in development assistance globally, there is the
possibility that the external support may fall below what is required.
Translation: We do not think that moving out of the category of Highly
Indebted Poor Country is such a good thing after all. It is better that we
stay poor, at least that seems to be the thinking and philosophy of this
Quote: There is also the need to improve policy literacy, particularly
through the budget process. Satisfying this need is not only the
responsibility of government in opening the space for policy education and
dialogue, but communities must also feel encouraged to make demands on this
space through their representatives.
Translation: Individuals are not welcome through the space allowed by the
If this government is serious about policy literacy it can start with its
own members of parliament, letter writers and the state media whose
contribution to policy literacy is negative. Policy discussion is distorted
and discouraged and individuals are either targeted or seek refuge in
Plenty sugar but no rice:
The PRSPR devotes considerable space to the Skeldon Project on which we
seem to be prepared to bet the shop and allots space and attention to the
Cricket Stadium but none to rice! Now what is the positive contribution from
spending six billion dollars on a special purpose sporting facility compared
with the rice sector on which about sixty thousand Guyanese depend but which
is yet to recover from its own problems with the EU market? There was no
public expression of outrage by the Government and the private sector when
the EU reformed its rice market with devastating consequences on prices.
This is a test of those who mix their politics with industry interest to
see how they will demand a correction of this unforgivable omission. Given
the little thinking that goes into the management of the economy the
omission is not surprising but it must surely be shocking that a government
can so callously disregard a sector from which it derives its electoral
Where have the Berbicians gone?
For some time word has been that the results of the Census have been
withheld because the Government was uncomfortable with the findings on
Regions 5 and 6 from which the PPP/C derives a large part of its electoral
support. Well the PRSPR has added a basis for those rumours and the results
show that over the period 1990 and 2002, the population of region 6 has
fallen by 13% while that of Region 5 has increased by less than 1500.
These numbers are quoted in absolute terms without any reference to what
would be the population if the normal rate of net increase (births minus
deaths) of 1% is considered. Using the target approach also and taking 1990
as the base, the population of Regions 5 and 6 have declined by 10% and 26%
respectively and at the national level the decline is 8.9%.
The incongruity of a policy that permits a single project costing more
than the capital budget of the rest of the country in a region with
decreasing population needs no further comment. And this is without any
reference to expenditure on the Berbice Bridge about which all the Report
would say is being left to the same private sector which it criticises for
not responding in the way it should to 'boost the economy and create jobs'.
The seriousness with which the Office of the President takes the document
and the strategy is best seen by looking at the website which still lists as
members of the Steering Committee George Jardim who left Guyana years ago
and Ms. Jocelyn Dow who ceased to be a member for almost as long. Such
elementary failure is evidence of the waste in which this country indulges
year after year supported by the international financial agencies and the
donor community. They could not care less that it is the taxpayers who
eventually have to bear the burden of such extravagance and incompetence. It
would be good to have a performance assessment system in the Office of the
President but then the question is who dares to undertake it?
It is time that the PRSPR is scrapped and replaced by a Development
Strategy that changes the economic model and strategy. One that moves away
from donor dependence and an obsession with foreign investors whose only
interest is maximum returns to one that recognises that for the foreseeable
future we have to pursue a tri-sectoral approach to wealth-creation and
The rich poverty unit in the Office of the President can then be
reassigned to do some real work instead of preparing an annual report that
no one will bother to read. Guyana cannot afford such luxury and
extravagance. Our intelligence cannot bear further insults.