– Magnanimous compromise and confidence

IN A BRIEF presentation to the National Assembly on Monday of this week, Minister of Finance, Winston Jordan, confirmed that Budget 2017 would be presented on Monday of next week, November 28, 2016 — 33 days before the start of the new year. This will mark a 21st century record for Guyana.

Noting that the presentation had been originally slated for December 5, a decision was taken by the Coalition Government to bring the date of the presentation forward, in order to, among other things, facilitate the opposition People’s Progressive Party, which has its congress scheduled for the first quarter of the Christmas month. Minister Jordan acquiesced to the request, he said in the spirit of compromise.

Such magnanimous acquiescence has demonstrated a delightful break from the hardnosed, antagonistic and combative national politics and political exchanges the nation has become accustomed to witnessing. Expectations of this gesture signalling a new season of political cooperation could rise.

This marks the first time since the turn of the century that the annual national budget will be presented the year prior.

In 2006, however, the former PPP/C administration had intimated its intent to present an early budget for the fiscal year 2007. It had initially scheduled the 2007 budget presentation for December 8, 2006. This failed to materialize. Budget 2007 was eventually presented to the house on February 2, some two months after the initially proposed date.

Even this date was at the time heralded as ‘early’ by the Ram & McRae annual budget review – Focus on Guyana’s Budget.
The report observed, “(the) Budget continues to be presented early in the year, albeit nothing was said as to why the commendable target date of December 8, 2006 was not achieved. In a release by Government Information Agency (GINA) then, the Minister (Dr. Singh) expressed satisfaction with the progress made to date, and noted that no delay in the presentation of the 2007 budget was anticipated.”

Two years prior, in 2005, the PPP had also initially planned a January budget, with the date set for January 24, but this was delayed by four weeks owing to the devastating 2005 flood on the lower East Coast Demerara and in Georgetown. The budget was delivered on February 22 instead.

Since 2000, the former PPP administration presented budgets between January and June, with the earliest being January 17, which was achieved in 2011; notably, an election year. The incumbent PPP went on to lose the parliamentary majority in the 2011 elections, and could not survive a vote of no-confidence in the National Assembly, which led to elections in 2015.

Focus on Guyana’s Budget publication noted another election year budget, this time in 2006, that, “[it] was the third earliest presentation of a national budget since 1993, and comes months before the constitutionally due general elections.”
The 2006 budget was presented on January 23.

The trend had been for budgets to be presented in February and March, and one, in 2001, was presented as late as June, though this was deemed a half year budget by then Minister of Finance, the low-key Sasenarine Kowlessar.

In 2008, budget was presented on February 22, the day before Mashramani, after it was originally scheduled for February 18 but was pushed back by four days following the horrendous massacre at Bartica on February 17.

In 15 budget presentations since 2000, neither of the two PPP finance ministers during this period, Kowlessar (2000-2006) or Dr. Ashni Singh (2007-2014) managed to present a budget in advance of the fiscal year.

Seven PPP budgets were presented in March, the third month of the year. Another five budgets were presented in February (Mashramani month), while two were presented in January of election years (2006 and 2011) and the other presented in June (2001).

2016 – January 29, Winston Jordan
2015 – August 15, Winston Jordan (four month budget following elections 2015)

2014 – March 24, Dr. Ashni Singh
2013 – March 25, Dr. Ashni Singh
2012 – March 30, Dr. Ashni Singh
2011 – January 17, Dr. Ashni Singh
2010 – February 8, Dr. Ashni Singh
2009 – February 9, Dr. Ashni Singh
2008 – February 22, Dr. Ashni Singh (Originally scheduled for Feb 18)
2007 – February 2, Dr. Ashni Singh (Originally scheduled for Dec 8, 2006)

2006 – January 23, Sasenarine Kowlessar
2005 – February 22, Sasenarine Kowlessar (Originally scheduled for January 24th)
2004 – March 29, – Sasenarine Kowlessar
2003 – March 28, Sasenarine Kowlessar
2002 – March 15, Sasenarine Kowlessar
2001 – June 15, Sasenarine Kowlessar
2000 – March 27, Sasenarine Kowlessar

Next Monday’s budget presentation will be the third in 18 months for Minister Jordan, the experienced and accomplished economist and previously long-serving budget advisor at the Ministry of Finance under the former PPP administration. It will follow Budget 2015 which was a four-month budget covering September to December for that year and the 2016 budget.

That the minister agreed to the bold move of not only initially presenting the budget in December but also to bringing the date further forward to November is indicative of his confidence in completing his work well in advance of the new year, which, hitherto, the nation had not been the beneficiary of from previous finance ministers.

The standard has been elevated.

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