Four days into a planned two-week strike by teachers across the country, Vice President Dr. Bharrat Jagdeo on Thursday broke his silence and sought to demonstrate why requests for higher salaries were unreasonable.
He said too that the daily protests that accompany the strike are opportunistically supported by the APNU+AFC political opposition even as he called on the Guyana Teachers’ Union (GTU) to get its house in order or it runs the risk of being struck off the register of trade unions.
In rebuke of claims that the PPP/C government has not treated teachers well, Jagdeo said the APNU+AFC Coalition, which he believes is leading the strike in the background, has a dismal record in this area.
To prove that the government was spending extensively not only on teachers but the education sector and students altogether, the VP drilled down some basic numbers and metrics.
“One thing about this strike is that it gives us an opportunity to do an in-depth analysis of the education sector and scrutinize the record of the teachers’ union,” Jagdeo noted.
With $135 billion of the 2024 budget dedicated to the education sector, Jagdeo first pointed out that included in that figure were large sums for the rehabilitation of some schools and the construction of edifices.
“The focus is better working conditions for teachers and students generally… ultimately it is about students, teachers are just one component – an important component,” Jagdeo added.
And so he recalled that in 2019, the then APNU+AFC government allocated $52. 7 billion to the education sector.
When that figure is divided by the number of students in the country, it amounts to $310, 000 or $25, 800 spent on each child annually and monthly, respectively.
In 2024, using the same calculations, and after the $8 billion is deducted for the University of Guyana and the GOAL scholarships, the government at $125 billion is pending 694, 000 and $57, 870 per child annually and monthly, respectively.
“We are spending more than double of what they spent per child.
“This metric is important globally because that’s how you assess a country’s commitment to the education sector,” Jagdeo said.
Also, Jagdeo said with 14, 000 teachers on the payroll, there is one teacher for every 23 children when compared to one teacher for every 12.6 children in 2012.
Jagdeo said the PPP/C government has hired more than 2,000 new teachers since 2020 and with more teachers in the system, more is being used in salaries even though teachers are now attending to smaller classrooms or in some instances, they are assisted.
But statistics on absenteeism bring a few problems to the fore. According to the Vice President, on a daily basis, only 70 per cent of teachers show up for work.
“We have to investigate this.”
Additionally, with more teachers graduating from the Cyril Potter College of Education (CPCE), Jagdeo said the government is spending more in higher salaries to train teachers.
And so, he insisted that teachers be paid a livable wage in keeping with what the government can afford with annual increases, similarly afforded to all public servants.
TEACHERS’ UNION COULD BE STRUCK FROM REGISTER
Meanwhile, Jagdeo took a jab at the GTU, saying that they have collected billions of dollars in dues over the years but have not submitted, as required, any audited financial statements.
According to Jagdeo, the last audited statement submitted to the Auditor General was in 1989, a breach of the constitution of the GTU.
Additionally, the GTU is required to submit financial statements, audited or not, to the Registrar. The last time this was done was in 2004.
As a result, he posited that the GTU could be struck off from the trade unions because of these lapses.
“Not that I’m advocating that because I think it should not happen but they must account for the money,” Jagdeo said.
And so, because of this level of unaccountability, the Vice President said no longer will the GTU be allowed to administer the duty free concessions scheme, where 100 concessions for vehicles are granted to senior educators annually.
Additionally, the government has halted immediately the deduction of union dues from the salaries of teachers.
He noted that the union leadership must say where they will get money to reimburse teachers after the government deducts money from their salaries for being absent from the classrooms.
Jagdeo said if 50 per cent of teachers are to be paid, it will amount to roughly $340 million to teachers per week.
“That should raise a lot of questions. How do they pay you? By cheque or cash? Who do they pay the money for? How do we know it is not funneled to people’s pockets?
“It’s so not transparent and I’m surprised no one has pressed them on this,” the Vice President noted.