THERE is much to be said about the 2017 National Budget, which will be done over a period of time. What continues to be striking is the callousness within which the politicians are going about doing the people’s business. Having followed the debate so far, I am concerned over the absence of depth and understanding of the theme under which this budget has been presented. This year’s theme speaks to “Building a diversified green economy: delivering the good life to all Guyanese.” In pursuing a green economy, unlike a budget that is presented and guided by the Gross Domestic Product, the objective is to bring people out of poverty, using indicators outlined in the Human Development Index.
To first and foremost tax health services and have a minister stand up and defend it by saying that those who seek private health services have to be rich, speaks to disconnect as to what is happening in the society. The public healthcare system is overburdened and in many cases cannot provide the basic services that citizens need.
A green economy also includes a focus to quality health, with the aim of ensuring the people engage in productive endeavours, as well as ensuring their longevity. When the state has a health system that is not adequately serving the people, and where the private sector service supplements the state’s, compassionate governance requires creating a balance, not making it prohibitive. On the issue of condoms being taxed, it must matter not to us under which government it is being taxed. What must be of concern to us is, where government cares about the health of its citizens, including that of sexually transmitted diseases, the most serious being HIV, it would not lose sight of the fact that prevention and management of these value condom as a very important tool.
Taxing has to be strategic. Condom, health services, water and electricity are necessities and vital to persons’ health and wellness. It is known that the minsters of government exercise the option at the taxpayers’ expense, and without their approval, to seek healthcare overseas. While the average citizen/worker cannot afford to, they watch their taxes providing this service for others, as they resort to either depriving themselves of the care or being at the mercy of a state-run system that needs an overhaul.
If it is the Government’s intent to bring about conservation and optimum realisation of water and electricity through changed behaviours, it did not communicate so. The budget failed to say what role government will play in assisting or redirecting changed behaviour outside of the punitive tax. It would have helped had government started a public awareness programme to re-educate citizens of the need for conservation, and secondly, put in place technical support to help track and manage consumption, with the goal of staying within the non-taxable range.
Talks about conservation over the years have been absent of any sustained programme of helping citizens tracking the equipment and appliances of high consumption, the periods when they use more of these utilities, and rewarding reduced consumption with credits, even though these have proven to be great incentives in achieving the objective. It needs to be noted that VAT is to be paid on the total amount once the maximum non-taxable is surpassed. If we are talking about changing behaviour, it must be across the board, and applicable to government officials, given that the taxpayers are paying their bills. Government officials who occupy State residency, or where the State is paying their bills for where they occupy, must be subject to paying their utility bills once these attract VAT. The point advanced that other societies pay taxes on water and electricity at this same time ignores that those taxes are not as high as ours. The government is surely not listening to their supporters and the citizens and for this they have lost touch with the people. It needs to step back and listen to the people, not only how they are thinking, but how they feel about them. The Local Government Elections, which they lost badly, should serve as a barometer in gauging the people’s feelings. This election came after salary increases for the president, ministers, and Members of the National Assembly even as citizens/workers were told the government inherited a bad economy. Arrogance and being disconnected can lead to a heavy downfall.