ON Friday, February 14 (Valentine’s Day), the APNU+AFC Coalition launched “Manifesto 2020” for the March 2nd General and Regional elections.
Here are yesterday’s headlines of Guyana’s four daily newspapers –
Guyana Chronicle: “This is a contract with you…provisions for cash transfers, natural gas terminal.”
Stabroek News: “APNU+AFC pledges cash transfers from Oil $$…promises to deliver with ‘ambitious but attainable’ Manifesto.”
Kaieteur News: “Free UG, Gas Plant, 20,000 house lots among promises in APNU+AFC’s 2020 Manifesto.”
Guyana Times: “APNU+AFC Manifesto launch – 2015’s broken promises regurgitated.”
With the exception of the Chronicle, the three privately owned dailies highlighted ‘promises’ as being at the core of the Coalition’s Manifesto.
At the launch President Granger affirmed: “We will do what we promised to do. We will perform…”
It is par for the course for political parties to make promises at elections time. But, as President Granger observed, promises have to be realistic, and ought to be matched as against prospects for delivery. They should not be made in order to bamboozle the electorate, he added.
When the Coalition contested the 2015 elections, it did make promises, 21 of which were carded for the first 100 days. It was not until August of that year that the new National Assembly approved a state budget; and without money, it might be argued that it was over-ambitious on the part of the Coalition to fulfil any of those promises. But what could not be disputed was that the intention of the Coalition was honourable. It worked diligently and consistently to produce results.
FIRST 100 DAYS
The records show that in the first 100 days the Coalition achieved the following:-
1. Reduction of tolls for Berbice River Bridge crossings. Tolls for passenger cars and buses were brought down by 13.6% from $2,200 to $1,900. Tolls for other categories of vehicles were cut by 10%. (Later, and in more recent times, when the bridge company tried to impose a 300% hike in tolls, the Coalition immediately chopped it down!)
2. Increased salaries of government workers. The basic monthly minimum wage was significantly increased from July 1, 2015 by 26.4%, from $39,450 to $50,000. (Cumulatively, public service salaries have since been increased by 77%, with the minimum wage at $70,000 – including the wages of sweepers and cleaners).
3. Hike in Old Age Pension. Pensions for our senior citizens were increased by 30%, from $13,125 to $17,000 monthly. (Old age pension has since been increased to $20,500 monthly).
4. Exemption from VAT of some $680 million worth in essential foods and basic consumer goods, as the first phase towards reduction of VAT by 2% (from 16% to 14%), and freeing up small businesses with below $15 million annual income from making declarations.
5. Waiver of duties and excise taxes. In its first budget (2015), the Coalition waived duty on fuels, tools and small-scale mining equipment such as all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), jack hammer drills, matting, pumps, engines, etc. Tax exemptions were extended to fishing boats, fishing equipment, spare parts, and supplies for use in seafood processing. Certain ranks in the disciplined services could access tax-free motor vehicles and toshaos, ATVs.
6. Distribution of passports and birth certificates. Responding to an acute problem, the Coalition immediately started weekly distribution of passports in Corriverton, New Amsterdam, Parika, Anna Regina, Bartica and Lethem. (Offices have been built since then in all three counties, including GRA and NIS offices, to access passports, birth certificates, motor vehicle licences, etc. ).
7. Local government elections were announced. Not held since 1994, a date was set for new local government elections after legislative reforms were completed. (Since then, local government elections were held in 2016 and 2018, and four new towns were created).
8. Fight against corruption. Our government sent a powerful signal that we would fight corruption in public offices. While proposing names for the Procurement Commission, we pushed forward with passage in the National Assembly of an amended Anti-Money Laundering law. The opposition PPP boycotted the National Assembly, did not submit their nominees, and initially stalled the composition of the commission, approval of which required a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly.
9. Several forensic audits were commissioned. To unravel revenue leakages and corrupt practices, the Coalition set up several forensic audits, and established a State Asset Recovery Unit to retrieve vehicles, land and other state assets that were illegally transferred to officials and their friends. That was the precursor to the criminal prosecution of top PPP/state officials for land grabs at “Pradoville Two,” and misappropriation of funds at places such as the Guyana Rice Development Board.
10. Activated crime-fighting plan. President Granger re-activated weekly sittings of the National Security Committee (NSC), which quickly drafted a plan on crime-fighting. Aviation and marine patrols were increased to combat piracy, and mobile patrols in interior and rural areas were beefed up to include use of horses. To combat the prevalence of illegal firearms, an amnesty was declared. (Later, firearms surrendered by certain other hinterland residents were replaced with new ones, many given to toshaos free of cost).
11. One Laptop Per Teacher Programme. In preparation for ICT innovations, our government announced distribution of some 9,609 laptops valued $1.7 billion to teachers, education and learning institutions nationwide. Steps were taken to pass in the National Assembly a reformed telecommunication law to end the monopoly that we had inherited. (Since then government has revolutionised ICT, opened a Centre of Excellence, and commissioned some 175 hubs for free internet services, plus distribution of thousands of tablets to schools).
12. Kick-started constitutional reform. Within our first 100 days I appointed a Steering Committee to advise on guidelines and the module for constitutional reform. From its work, a Constitutional Consultative and Reform Bill was tabled in Parliament, and it was sent to a parliamentary committee for consideration. The business of this bipartisan committee was stalled, with no government/opposition consensus on moving forward.
13. And, of course, as promised, we pruned the excessive benefits under the former presidents law by placing a cap on the number of vehicles, guards, guns, overseas trips, duty-free concessions and other benefits that Mr. Jagdeo had given to himself (monetised at some $3 million monthly), and to his two colleagues who had also served as president.
I have elaborated on the above to show that the Coalition has a track record of following up on its promises. It has done so within its first 100 days in office, and has subsequently done so over the past four plus years.
The opposition PPP had promised much, but delivered little. It has a credibility problem. Old people have a creole saying, “seh suh, is na do suh” (say so is not do so).
President Granger is right. Promises must be matched by performance. The Coalition’s performance in a single term is sufficient evidence that while the APNU+AFC manifesto plans are ambitious, with honest leadership they are attainable and achievable.