There is something vulgar about hosting an “all white” party on a barge in the Demerara River with a ticket price that is higher than the current monthly minimum wage even if it is for a good cause. Charity does not excuse such “in your face ”Ostentatious indulgences in what is still a desperately poor country.
Of course any criticism will be drowned out by the popping of champagne corks and the clacking of louboutins. These days wealth is a virtue in and of itself and the emerging oil elite’s behavior and benevolence must be applauded rather than questioned.
In a perfect world there would be no need for charity. Either everyone would be able to afford the basics, or the government would provide them for free. While some countries have moved closer to this ideal it is seldom the case and those with poor social welfare systems and high levels of inequality tend to have the highest rates of charity. Americans donated $ 471B in 2020, the highest per capita in the world.
These gestures are however woefully insufficient, as Friedrich Engels noted in “The Condition of the Working Class in England” (1845): “the philanthropy of the rich is a raindrop in the ocean, lost in the moment of falling.”
Political philosopher Slavoj Zizek describes charity as remedies that “do not cure the disease they merely prolong it; indeed the remedies are part of the disease. They try to solve the problem of poverty, for instance, by keeping the poor alive…. This is The proper aim is to try and reconstruct society on such a basis that poverty will be impossible and the altruistic virtues have really prevented the carrying out of this aim. ”In other words, charity is not just a bandaid on a festering wound but actually ensures that this wound does not heal because the rich are only interested in preserving the status quo.
Probably the most glaring local example of what Zizek is talking about is the First Lady’s campaign to end period poverty when the government is still charging a 20% duty on sanitary napkins. Then again the removal of this, and an application of a subsidy, would not require any glamorous parties, nor companies indirectly pledging fealty.
The recent cleanup of the city and elsewhere was another exercise in virtuous self-promotion. Several months later the city has returned to its garbage-laden state. A far more sincere and sustainable initiative would have been to employ 100 people to keep it clean. Similarly the Three Bs (Boats, Buses and Bicycles) initiative by then President Granger was too timid a gesture and again reliant on businesses, when what was needed, and still is, is a full blown government-run school transportation system.
Guyanese companies like to give and importantly be seen to be giving. A quick call to a compliant media house and a photographer will be round to snap the handing over of a cheque or a donation of a hamper to some exceedingly grateful mendicant. But it is the very business class of this country that every day contributes to the same poverty and social ills. A Global Financial Integrity Report from 2015 showed that for the years 2008 to 2012 illicit financial flows, primarily in the form of under-invoicing of imports and other tax evasion practices, represented 511.2% of the country’s spending on education and 264% of the health sector budget – the 6th worst ratio among the 82 countries examined for the study and the 13th worst when the illicit outflows are calculated as a percentage — 17.3% — of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Just think about that, the next time you see a photographer donating to some child needing surgery overseas. Or when you remember how in 2008 nine-year-old Tanesha De Souza drowned in a pit latrine at her her Santa Rosa Primary School, Moruca.
It can be tiresome to bang on about the cost of living when the business class are polishing off sushi platters, $ 40,000 Tomahawk Steaks, US $ 300 bottles of wine or US $ 800 bottles of brandy. help the poor in this country at a time of the highest inflation in a generation. They too have applied bandaids of hampers and handouts rather than making what are easily instituted measures: reductions on tariffs on various imported staples, a reduction in VAT, an increase In the minimum wage and a substantial increase in the income tax threshold. Such initiatives would have immediate benefits on all manner of social ills, as part of what should be the ultimate goal of eradicating poverty completely from these shores. You don’t end period poverty by handing out sanitary supplies. You end it by ending poverty.
Is there a place for charity aside from providing a justification for a party? The ills of our society are founded on fundamental inequalities and injustices that will only be exacerbated by the waterfall of oil revenues pouring down on our heads. Therefore charitable donors should emphasizee support for civil society organisations that promote democracy and principles of good governance such as transparency, accountability and justice – organizations which look to change the system rather than treat the symptoms. But in the current climate it would be a brave businessman who openly takes his cheque book out for that.