By Gail Teixeira M.P.
I have watched with a sense of profound foreboding over the last 27 months as the APNUAFC Coalition government has steadfastly and calculatedly terminated thousands of workers in the government sector.
Within 8 weeks of being in office, one of its first acts was to dismiss 1,972 young Amerindian Community Service Officers by the Ministry of Indigenous Affairs. This has been the single largest ethnic group to have been dismissed from the government service by the new government. In fact, this is the single largest ethnic group to have been terminated since the mid-1980s when President’s Hoyte’s government reduced the size of the government sector and thousands of Afro- Guyanese lost their jobs.
The loss to Amerindian communities across the country by the termination of this large number of young people is enormous; it is estimated that $800 M has been withdrawn from the village economies, and, 10,000 people directly dependent on these persons for their livelihood have been impoverished.
Rapidly following this was the “creaming off” of the top layer of the government service –the majority of the Permanent Secretaries, Regional Executive Officers, Chief Executive Officers, Executive Directors, and Heads of Departments, were terminated, mainly Indo-Guyanese. Many of these have been replaced by persons serving with or retired from the military. Thus, the first stage of the militarization of the government service had begun.
Then came the insidious and constant removal of clerical and accounts clerks in interior regions, and, then accounts and technical staff in all the regions, unauthorized transferring and demoting of staff, sending staff on administrative leave who were targeted as being PPP associates or sympathizers, or, who just happened to be Indo-Guyanese or Amerindian in the main.
The government’s justification for this was that many of these persons had been candidates for the PPPC in the May 2015 general and regional elections and the government wanted a professional public service. However, this posture has been unveiled as a mere veneer as the dismissed were replaced with persons who had been APNUAFC Coalition candidates as well as known political activists of the ruling party.
In fact, while 3, 000, and, more are still losing their jobs, the government has been filling the vacancies and creating many more positions at far higher salaries than those who have been fired. One thousand (1000) new contract workers were added to the public service as exposed during the February 2016 Budget debate, and, another 1000 were found to be hired during the December 2016 debate on the 2017 Budget.
So blatant had this become that after a year of these terminations of almost 3,000 people from government service, it became necessary for the government to get rid of the Chairman and member of the Public Service Commission, appointed through a parliamentary process and replace him. Thus the Public Service Commission, an independent constitutional body was now safely ensconced in the arms of the APNUAFC government to now sanctify the discrimination. Up to September 1, 2017, the day that the Public Service Commission expired, and even after, senior and middle ranking public servants have received letters of demotion and termination while simultaneously there has been a rush of appointments of a large numbers of persons. One has witnessed a number of persons appointed who do not have the requisite qualifications as well as the supersession of qualified staff by juniors with little or no qualifications for these senior positions.
The establishment of the new Public Service Staff College which is headed by and managed by party activists and military men confirms many people’s views that there will be no fairness in employment, promotion, scholarships, training opportunities etc., based on merit.
Almost 2000 young people in the government have lost their jobs, the majority is between the ages of 25-40 years of age, one quarter of these are professionals with degrees and post-graduate degrees, and a large number are of Amerindian and Indo-Guyanese descent. Their feeling of loss, disappointment and displacement in the country of their birth is agonizing. They could have gone elsewhere to work but they decided to stay and work in their country. Their feeling of no longer belonging in Guyana is heart-breaking. For those who can leave, they are doing so and snapping up jobs in the Caribbean and further afield. Hence the upsurge in emigration from our shores!
Having degutted the government service of institutional memory and knowledge as well as skilled technical and managerial capacity, the government has found that it is incapable of implementing the Public Sector Investment Programme (PSIP) as admitted by the Minister of Finance with less than 35 % expenditure by mid- year. However the government is quick to pull out its standard “bogeyman,” the PPPC, for not cooperating as the reason for their abysmal performance.
In the light of the government’s growing unpopularity even among its supporters, the government is moving to further cleanse the middle to lower ranks of the public service. Like in the 1980s and 1990s, anyone regardless of ethnicity, and more particularly Afro-Guyanese, who are critical of the government, are also under the radar.
For Guyana, the human cost is incalculable- despair, hopelessness, and deepening impoverishment. We need to ask the “powers that be” are these young people expected to go and sell plantain chips as the government rhetoric a la 1970s is repeated ad nauseum? Is this their solution to job creation and unemployment???
The cost to the country is irreplaceable. It will take over a decade to develop and replace the loss of these skilled government servants. After all, we are only a country of 747,000. Oil will not save us here.
For those who are old enough, the last time Guyanese saw such levels of removals from the government service was during the post 1985-1990 period when the IMF Economic Recovery Programme to bring Guyana back to credit-worthiness demanded the reduction of the public sector from 40,000 to 28,000.
The difference now is that these removals are not due to such imperatives of cost cutting and lack of financial resources, this is instead a deliberate policy of “cleansing” the government sector of persons based on a policy rooted in political vindictiveness and ethno-political discrimination.
The fact that this process has been going on consistently for the past 27 months demonstrates that this is not an immediate “knee jerk” reaction of a new government in its first few months of taking office. This is a deliberate, consistent, calculated and methodical policy of the government. According to international human rights, it is no other than state-sponsored ethno-political discrimination.