Two favourite campaign promises are already being bandied about: free education and cash transfers. The former is borne of a desire to fundamentally change our society and future. The latter is an example of how to squander our oil wealth. This opinion is not influenced by any party affiliation – to me it seems pure and simple common sense.
We all know that investing in our education system is an urgent and vital need. The IMF’s Article IV report found that while Guyanese children receive around 12 years of schooling, that education is only worth about 6 years compared to other countries with better education systems. That means that half of the time our children spend getting an education is wasted. Perhaps it is better to call it daycare than school?
Better teachers, facilities, resources and programmes will ensure that the quality of that primary education improves. This will equip our children with the solid foundation they need to pursue further education, rather than proceeding to university unequipped for the challenge. We must also invest at the university level as well. Improving UG’s faculties and programmes will prevent Guyanese from being forced to go elsewhere in order to obtain a degree. This must be done if we are to halt our devastating brain drain.
To me, all of this seems to be common sense. One of the best things a country can provide its youth is a quality education. Guyana’s system has fallen into disrepair. Now that we have happened into oil wealth, we have an opportunity to fix this mistake.
Compare that to the suggestion that Guyana should begin making cash transfers. A blanket payout to all citizens cannot possibly create the same merits and values that a quality education can. Rather, it rewards Guyanese for having the good fortune to be living in this moment. It also counts on the recipient to be responsible with how they use the funds.
Of course, the idea of limited or targeted cash transfers has been suggested as an alternative. And in a perfect world, our Government would impartially distribute cash to Guyanese most in need, bereft of any racial or political considerations. But we do not live in a perfect world. I fear that the idea of targeted transfers is more likely to become a mere euphemism for buying political support with oil money.
It is the duty of all Guyanese to refrain from the near-sighted temptations that oil wealth will offer. Every international expert and every country that has already experienced oil wealth all urge us to look to the long term and plan ahead. Our generation is lucky to have seen the discovery of oil, but our labour is just beginning if we are to translate that into lasting prosperity and stability. We have not earned the right to take early retirement on an oil “pension.” We cannot be bribed away from our long-term goal. Let us exercise restraint and look towards policies which create a lasting foundation.