By Red Thread
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected people all over the world, some more than others, but we want to focus on what is happening to us in Guyana. We are concerned about a number of issues affecting poor people in our daily lives in Guyana and we need answers and clarification from the relevant authorities, including and especially from those who have been elected to represent us.
We remain unclear about what measures have been put in place to deal effectively with this pandemic, but what we do know is that poor people are suffering, especially families with children, people with disabilities and the elderly. Meanwhile the politicians point fingers and try to score points off each other.
Frontline workers are now in negotiations for improved working conditions, including increased salaries, risk allowance and more personal protective equipment which we know that they deserve. There is no way we can fight this pandemic and other illnesses without them so it is unfair that they should be threatened for protesting for support that they should have received months ago.
They have been working tirelessly, risking their own lives and the lives of their families to save others.
Many of us have lost jobs as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic (domestic workers, bartenders, barbers, hairdressers, to name a few), and have no other sources of income. The Government’s recent announcement of an allocation of $25,000 dollars to be given to every household is a welcome initiative, but we have further questions:
Is this $25,000 dollars a one-off payment, or assistance that will be provided on a weekly or monthly basis (and if so, for how long)?
What is the basis for determining if households qualify for support?
We ask these questions because twenty-five thousand dollars is not adequate to offset the financial disaster facing the poor at this time. This amount can’t even begin to buy food much less pay rent, mortgages and other utility bills. If we break it down, it amounts to $807 – $833 dollars per day in a month of 30 or 31 days.
This is enough for one pack of Natura milk, a loaf of bread and three eggs on any given day.
Meanwhile the Budget includes the purchase of new vehicles for Ministers. It’s hard not to conclude that everything else always takes priority over the well-being of poor people. The problem we continue to have with Governments, irrespective of who is in office, is that poor people are always offered pennies while those who already have much, can expect to receive more.
Many people are homeless or are on the verge of becoming homeless as a result of not being able to pay their rent (and we recognize that this is a difficult situation for many landlords who also have mortgages to pay). We have seen this play out with the situation of settlers in Success on the East Coast of Demerara. In the face of contradictory government responses to their plight, our position is that a rank abuse of power was committed by the police who shot settlers with rubber bullets. We are not condoning illegality but at the same time we cannot close our eyes and ears to the fact that people are suffering, and not just in Success. Many are in desperate need of somewhere to live. Some have said that they applied for house lots since 2011 and some as early as 2008 and are still waiting. We in Red Thread can relate to that, because we have also been waiting for many years.
Poor people are continuing to lose confidence in the law enforcers of this country. Over the years families are still awaiting justice for the loss of the lives of their loved ones. They are now joined most recently by the loved ones of the three young men of West Coast Berbice, Joel Henry, Isaiah Henry and Haresh Singh. It has now been over one month since they met their gruesome deaths and not one person has been charged for those murders. But when poor people stand up for their rights, they are teargassed, shot with pellets or live rounds, as we have seen in Berbice, Success and most recently at the Lusignan Prison. At the same time, we are not seeing enough attention being paid to the increases in domestic violence, femicides and abuse of children; where is the justice for these victims and survivors?
When it comes to education, schools have been reopened (not physically) and online learning is in effect. However, many children are at a big disadvantage. Many have no access to electronic devices or internet, and this is especially the case for hinterland communities. Some schools provide printouts or work books for their students, which is very thoughtful, but children need guidance to get their work done and in many households, parents are hardly able to work with their children due to the long hours some of them work just to earn a few extra pennies (like security guards), while some parents and guardians complained that they don’t know the work and therefore cannot help their children. How is this being taken into consideration?
In the 2020 budget presentation the de facto Finance Minister promised that all Guyanese will be afforded a good education, decent work, be able to start their own businesses, raise and provide for a family , own their own homes, live in a safe secure environment and retire with dignity. He also said the budget “embodied a no -nonsense, no frills, no fluff, people centred, pro-poor, results-oriented approach to launch this nation back on its positive development trajectory”. But the bottom line is that the reason people are poor and suffering is because we have an economy that does not cater for us. We make up the majority of the population across geography and race and gender, but we are made to feel the brunt of the Covid-19 pandemic because of decisions that are made that do not centre the voices of poor people at the decision-making tables.
For Red Thread