“Guyana’s prospects have never been more promising.” (Guyana’s President Irfaan Ali on the first 100 days in office)
By Gail Teixeira* (pictured above)
The new Government of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana came into office on August 2nd, 2020, after what are considered historic and unprecedented circumstances, even at the global level, following the March 2nd General and Regional Elections and a fourteen month struggle to hold free and fair elections. This in turn followed the successful passage of a no confidence motion on December 21, 2018.
Repeated, and documented, efforts by officials in the Guyana Elections Commission and the members of the former Government on March 5th and 13th 2020 to derail the will of the electorate to choose their representatives in accordance with the Guyana Constitution contributed to this five months delay.
These elections were observed by the Commonwealth, the Organization of American States, the European Union, the CARICOM and the Carter Centre and all concluded that March 2nd Elections Day had been conducted in a free, transparent and fair manner. During the 5 months following these elections, 100 countries represented in the UN, Commonwealth, OAS, European Union and the CARICOM all supported the Guyanese people’s efforts to peacefully defend their right to choose their government and to ensure that the legitimate government of Guyana was installed.
In the midst of these events, Guyana was also experiencing the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic within its borders with no annual budget for 2020 and no sitting of the Parliament for over a year with a aretaker government shamelessly engaged in corruption, squander mania, unauthorized forays in the public purse and the unlawful disposal of public resources.
November 10th marked 100 calendar days since President Mohamed Irfaan Ali took the oath of Office to become Guyana’s 9th Executive President. President Ali observed in his address to mark this milestone “We have worked with feverish intensity to deliver benefits for all. But we did not do it alone. I wish to thank all of our frontline health workers, teachers and members of the joint services for their heroic efforts during the pandemic and for the additional risks which they have so willingly shouldered… ”
The focus of the new government has been to respond responsibly to the health crisis and reboot the economy, relieve citizens’ burdens, restore hope, rebuild confidence and re-engineer development to the benefit of all Guyanese.
As the President noted “We inherited a grim state of affairs. The economy was in a state of neglectful distress. During the five-month post-election period, our people not only patiently awaited the election results but they were forced to confront the effects of the pandemic alone… The coronavirus pandemic triggered a downturn in production, a slowdown of business and the loss of jobs and incomes. Many families struggled to put food on their tables; many small businesses found themselves in a financially perilous state. Schools had to be closed; examinations adjusted and our health care system was left to rot with no basic medical supplies procured in the last two years.”
Responding to health crisis and immediate challenges
The former government’s response to the Covid 19 pandemic was hopelessly inadequate and irresponsible; valuable time was lost in the early stages to put the health sector across the country in order with adequate drugs, medical supplies, equipment and staff. The interior regions suffered the most from neglect; the fact that the some of the highest number of the cases are emerging from three of the four interior regions is not surprising.
The new government’s foremost priority has been to craft a response that is comprehensive and multifaceted. A national multi-stakeholders taskforce was assembled; increased testing capacity and turnaround time with the procurement of equipment and supplies; acquired adequate supplies of personal protective gear; procurement of ventilators, oxygen concentrators and other equipment necessary for treating patients; enhanced capacity of regional hospitals to treat coronavirus patients; acquired much needed drugs to improve patients’ recovery. Guyana has also signed on to the facility being provided by the Vaccine Alliance to allow it to access a COVID-19 vaccine.
Due to the closure of schools and limited access to connectivity in several regions and levels of poverty, the government has used a multi- faceted approach to provide children with lessons through radio stations, the Learning Channel (tv), newspapers and worksheets. Face-to-face classes resumed for Grades10, 11 and 12 only under strict COVID-19 protocols.
Rebooting the economy
Within 21 days in office, the new government was able to craft an Emergency Budget which was passed in the National Assembly on September 30, 2020. It is aimed at rebooting the economy – stimulating productive sectors, attracting new investments, creating employment and improving the economy’s competitiveness- while ensuring that people benefitted from relief measures. These measures included providing tax concessions on mining, agro-processing, cold storage and packaging; the removal of VAT on exports and allowing exporters, including those in the fishing, rice and timber industries, to reclaim input VAT; removed the VAT on fertilizers, agro-chemicals, pesticides, etc.
The process of reopening three of the four sugar estates closed by the former government has begun and land preparation, servicing of equipment and the recruitment of staff are moving full steam ahead. There are also a number of investors expressing interest in the sugar industry and in the bauxite sector. 30,000 jobs were lost under the former government. Now the economy is picking up and job opportunities and job creation are opening up.
Two key impediments to the growth, diversification and modernization of the economy and reducing productions costs have been the telecommunications and energy sectors. Within these early days, the telecommunications sector was liberalized and additional power has been added to the national grid with private public partnerships as well as the supply of 30,000 solar panels to residents in interior locations through an agreement with the Government of India.
Relieving burdens on the people
The government launched an almost 5 billion dollar COVID-19 relief grant which is providing every household with G$25,000 ($125USD); almost 60% of the population have already benefitted. Frontline workers will benefit from a G$150M risk allowances. It removed the unconscionable value-added tax (VAT) on water, electricity and data services and restored tax exempt status on essential items. We have restored free water for pensioners and increased the government- funded old age pensions.
Farmers will also benefit as fees for drainage and irrigation services and land leases were reversed to the pre-2015 rates. Small grants are available to micro and small businesses through the government.
The government reintroduced the education cash grant and increased the amount to every child registered in school; the universal school uniform allowance was also increased.
Restoring Guyana’s confidence
The President reported that he had “held meetings with a number of investors, heads of institutions and world leaders, all of whom have expressed a willingness to support Guyana’s development. The World Bank and the US International Development Finance Corporation have offered their assistance… Guyana’s international standing has never been as highly regarded as it is today..”
In the first 100 days, the government has begun to lay the groundwork for transformational infrastructural change: advertised invitations for expressions of interest for the new Demerara River Harbour Crossing; signed an agreement with the Republic of Suriname to build a bridge link between the two countries; completing preparations to commence a new four-lane highway to open up new areas and improve traffic and communications’ time; begin to work on a 250 MW gas- shore project; advertised for EOIs for new hotel and two large international chains have already agreed to start construction in 2021 to cater for the increased inflow of additional visitors due to the oil and gas industry; commenced plans for a mix of energy-generation projects, including hydro and solar power.
Guyana’s Low Carbon Development Strategy which was ended by the former government will be updated and be the underpinning of Guyana’s environment friendly transformational developmental path.
The Guyanese people want the opportunities and chances to improve their lives and those of their children; whilst ethnic insecurities, real and perceived, do exist these can be overcome with good governance – equal access to government goods and services, equal access to redress, equal opportunities for training, scholarships and business development.
Guyana’s prospects have never been more promising.
*Minister of Parliamentary Affairs and Governance, People’s Progressive Party/Civic