This article was previously posted in 2013 on our early and mostly larval Facebook page. We are reposting it in light of yesterday’s NGSA results showing that 93 out of the top 166 students (56%) attended private schools. As we commented in The Wrap, the private school system begins for children what is a dangerous societal division that lasts a life time between the rich and poor, the educated and the semi-literate. The blame for what is the creation of two Guyanas lands squarely on the shoulders of previous governments. The responsibility to break down these divisions rests with the current administration.
On the face of it, Guyana is the very model of a socialist state. And we mean that in a good way. Free healthcare, free education up to secondary school and nominally priced university fees, a pension scheme, and a national insurance scheme. Everything is in place to provide for the workers, the citizens.
So how do the people participate in a system that as taxpayers they fund? Go on a Monday morning to any of the private hospitals in Georgetown and they are mobbed by citizens of quite moderate income who are willing to pay their hard earned cash to get what they perceive to be proper healthcare. Now swing by the numerous private schools that have popped up in the last fifteen years and see the lines of cars dropping off children.
This self sufficiency extends to almost every facet of life. Due to the lack of an orderly and safe public transportation system, most citizens will, as soon as they can afford to, buy a vehicle. Contrast this to major cities worldwide where even some of the most affluent take public transportation. Indeed, Mayor of New York, the billionaire Michael Bloomberg takes the subway to work many mornings. He owns a private jet. Meanwhile the lack of reliable public river transportation in Guyana and the complete failure of regulation and supervision of the private boats that have filled the void, directly contributed to the deaths in the Pomeroon and Mazaruni rivers in recent months.
When we step inside the average home we see even more of the evidence of this self sufficiency in the form of security guards, grill work, alarm systems and surveillance cameras. The water we drink comes in bottles we choose to purchase. We buy generators to ensure reliable electricity. We pay private contractors to haul away our garbage. We air condition our homes not so much to stay cool as to keep out the mosquitoes the government should be cleaning our drains for or spraying away.
In all areas of everyday life, Guyanese simply choose to do it themselves rather than rely on a system that is free. Who said Guyanese like freeness?
Now the dangers of this kind of behaviour are clear. Firstly it creates a division in society between those who can afford private services and those who are forced to rely on them. The effects of this are two-fold: the lack of interaction between these two groups creates a social divide that breeds suspicion and envy. This suspicion manifests itself in for example a comment we recently saw on Facebook where a poster said she was hearing all the time how people are poor but if you drive around town the fried chicken outlets are full. Naturally the poster thinks eating fast food is an extravagance. Never mind it is none of her business to say how poor people should spend their money. The envy is of course the reverse of this, in the form of grumblings about the extravagant lifestyles of the affluent. Case in point the family that dropped $3.2M at a Main Street drinking spot on New Year’s Eve.
Secondly with the middle class having no stake in let’s say the quality of healthcare or education only the poor are left to complain. With little access to the media and poor communication skills, their protests are easily dismissed. We have seen this in numerous instances in relation to the public hospitals where the accounts of patients who have been poorly treated or even lost babies are deftly disputed by health professionals. Contrast this to the furore in European countries (where almost all citizens are stakeholders) when there are the slightest changes to public services.
And what is more galling is the onus on citizens to provide the same services the government is supposed to deliver. The University of Guyana Students Society (UGSS) is planning to raise funds for various infrastructure projects including replacing a small bridge from the campus to Dennis Street, Sophia. They really should be marching to demand these projects are paid for and executed by the government. We can recall possibly the most absurd and pitiful example of self help a few years ago where the Guyana Society for the Blind donated wood to the prisoners in Camp St so they could construct covers for the manholes on the city sidewalks so blind people would not fall into them. Then there are the numerous community policing groups. Why should a sugar worker who has a full-time job and pays taxes be obliged to stay up half the night protecting his village?
Now there is simply no point trying to coerce the middle class to opt into public services. The situation is way beyond that. And their behaviour is understandable and a natural act of self preservation. However even though they are not directly affected by the poor provision of services, it is their duty to speak up for those same systems because their condition often does affect them in the form of poorly educated, unhealthy workers who come late to work due to chaotic transportation. And it may be their precious SUV that is destroyed by a speeding mini bus driver or their home destroyed by fire because there is no fire engine nearby. You get the picture.
So while everyone continues to do it for themselves in this socialist state, everyone actually has a stake in the provision of services, and everyone must demand that those services are provided to a standard that while they may not prefer to use them they would expect to be adequate for those who do. That is socialism.