A couple of weeks ago Business Page carried a review of the draft Poverty
Reduction Strategy Progress Report which we noted fails to have any
identifiable, let alone coherent policy on reducing unemployment. Providing
jobs for those leaving secondary schools, technical and vocational
establishments and the University of Guyana constitute the best form of
poverty reduction. Yet reducing unemployment ranks as one of this
government's major failures and must be one of the main reasons for the
continuing migration of our youths from Guyana. It was therefore hoped that
the launching of the National Training Programme for Youth Empowerment last
month by President Jagdeo would signal for the first time that the
government was serious about creating jobs for the nation's youths and the
rest of the nation desperately in need of a job.
It is one of the most painful and costly ironies that our two finance
ministers, both themselves relatively young, seem so incapable of any vision
offering hope to our youth. The few 'initiatives' announced from time to
time are no more than a restatement of old failed polices which in any case
were never properly conceived, were largely about gaining political mileage
and never formed part of the strategy at the operational level. The few
initiatives which are announced from time to time, such as the temporary
employment and maintenance programme to employ 300-400 persons in low-paying
jobs, demonstrate a lack of imagination and aspirations for the poor in the
The latest initiative announced by the President is a three-year project
targeting 5,250 early school leavers and out-of-school young people between
the ages of 16 and 25 years. He indicated that these are people who are not
equipped with the academic qualifications to gain entry into the Technical
Institutes or other post-secondary institutions. The objective is to make
those persons into productive citizens.
The skills they will be taught include carpentry, welding, plumbing,
sewing and catering, as well as those required for field audit clerks,
postal clerks, lab technicians, etc. The programme will cost $350 million
with training starting in September 2005 and falling under the little known
Board of Industrial Training. The scheme therefore is commendable on paper
but leaves too many questions unanswered, in addition to which it does not
seem to have any specific focus. Where do the several ministries and the
czar of Youth Empowerment come into the picture, and what is the basis for
the number of 1,750 per year? And how come Dr Frimpong whose job is to
reduce poverty does not mention the project in his Poverty Progress Report?
National Insurance Scheme Annual Report
Helpful public servants:
Business Page was pleasantly surprised by the amount of information so
readily made available by the willing staff in the statistical units in the
National Insurance Scheme and the Ministry of Education.
The statistics from the Ministry of Education and the NIS would have been
a useful basis for the initiative as would have been an equally important
labour needs survey. What makes President Jagdeo think that we need more
hair-dressing salons or store clerks, and is there a more detailed plan
identifying the numbers in each category we are planning to train? In other
words what needs are we hoping to meet?
According to the data supplied by the Ministry of Education, about ten
thousand persons come out of the various levels of the school system, i.e.
community and high schools, University of Guyana and the Technical
Institutes in Georgetown, Linden, New Amsterdam and Essequibo, where only
three persons graduated.
Do these youths find jobs? The statistics from the National Insurance
Scheme, the board of which is headed by Dr Roger Luncheon and which is part
of Mr. Kowlessar's portfolio, show that they do not. The number of new NIS
employees registered which has been on a downward trend since 1994 continues
its descent, with 2004 being the lowest figure recorded since 1990. In fact
the number of new registrants is less than half what it was in 1996, when
Mr. Jagdeo took over from Mr. Asgar Ally as Finance Minister.
Source: National Insurance Scheme Annual Reports
And the data do not show these persons becoming self-employed registrants
or new employers. See Table 2. That the number of employers has increased in
2004 over 2003 even as new employees' registrations fell requires some
review by the NIS, but there does not appear to be any problem with the
number of self-employed new registrants in 2004 which is less than 20% of
what it was when Mr. Jagdeo took over as Finance Minister and 87% of what it
was when he passed on the ministry to Mr. Kowlessar. These figures not only
reflect poorly on President Jagdeo and Mr. Kowlessar but they also paint a
picture of an economy reaching crisis point.
Source: National Insurance Scheme Annual Reports
Mr. Jagdeo might wish to take the strap-line from the Guyana Citizens'
Initiative for Flood Relief - 'Matching Needs with Resources.' An education
and training policy has to be based on the needs of the economy into the
future and the supply situation arising from demographic changes in the
country. The vision of low-wage jobs in cleaning drains and cutting cane
needs to be replaced by one of a transformed economy of high value, high
growth and technological advancement.
That vision has to be conceived by leaders and executed by good managers
in both the private as well as the public sector. President Jagdeo cannot go
off on his adventures without the involvement and commitment of his
ministers. In the rural areas, the co-operative sector by whatever name
called can redeem and restore communities, while the private sector can take
a greater role in the training scheme. Banks DIH, the rest of the private
sector and students must be used as more than a venue or a captive audience.