Gov’t praised for receptiveness during Budget 2022 consultations
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PSC Chairman, Paul Cheong
PSC Chairman, Paul Cheong

ON Wednesday, Senior Minister in the Office of the President with responsibility for Finance, Dr Ashni Singh, will unveil the 2022 national budget, which has been described as “historic” and “transformational.”

The measures in the budget would have been decided on following consultations with the various government agencies, as well as several civil society organisations, to ensure its contents benefit all Guyanese.

Speaking with the Guyana Chronicle on Monday, some of the civil organisations said that the government has seemingly been receptive to suggestions and recommendations, and so, many are looking forward to the unveiling of the budget with positive expectations.

“I am optimistic,” Chairman of the Private Sector Commission (PSC), Paul Cheong, commented in a telephone interview with this publication.

“We had a discussion on many issues affecting the private sector and I think the government understands what we need, given our presentation. The minister understands the challenges the country faces and we look forward to seeing measures in the budget that would put systems in place so as to assist, and lay the foundation for things to come.”

Cheong noted that concerns pertaining to energy costs, as well as the rising costs brought on by the global pandemic and supply chain challenges are key issues facing the private sector, which they would have laid out to the government.

“We are operating in a pandemic which has created a freight rate increase [and] energy cost. These are affecting turn out of employees which affect productivity. We put forward a number of measures which we asked the minister to consider in the budget to see how we can give relief to the private sector and the wider nation,” Cheong explained.

Taxes is another big area the private sector will be keeping its eye out for when Minister Dr. Singh reads the budget.

“Both corporation and personal income tax which allow for much more disposable income to the working population is needed. With the corporation tax, it would allow companies the cash flow to expand and retool and develop their businesses to create more employment,” he added.

RECEPTIVE
Meanwhile, President of the Guyana Gold and Diamond Miners Association (GGDMA), Andron Alphonso, also commended the government’s approach to meetings with that body and though unsure of what the final budget will include, he is positive that it contains many measures that will benefit the citizens.

“We had very good interactions with the minister. It was a very long meeting. It wasn’t just him listening, he was very engaged, and we had a lot of back and forth. We debated some of the items we suggested and he was very receptive and did lend an ear to all of our concerns. We have to wait to see what the final budget will have but I am expecting good things for the people of Guyana,” Alphonso said in a telephone interview conducted on Monday.

The mining sector, like many others, was hard hit last year by the unprecedented flooding that occurred across the country.

Speaking on that issue, Alphonso noted that he had highlighted to the minister the need for improved infrastructure that can withstand future flooding of that magnitude.

President of FITUG, Carvil Duncan

“We are looking for more spending to improve infrastructure road. We need to start the transition to more robust road. Last year, we lost a lot of productivity due to bad weather conditions and the roads we have right now, the way they are designed, it is not built to take that type of weather continuously,” Alphonso emphasised.

Reduction or removal of the taxes and duties on heavy duty trucks is another measure that GGDMA is hoping will be included in the budget.

“Government was gracious enough to give us back the full exemption on heavy duty equipment and on ATVs but we are looking for similar concessions on heavy duty trucks that are used in the interior,” he said.

Alphonso noted that the miners are grateful for several of the measures that already exist, but are hoping for more, given the hardships facing the sector.

“We have some other concessions still ongoing that continue to grow, that we were given and for tax compliant miners there are various benefits under the investment development agreements that we have with government. The mining sector is already benefitting and [for] this budget, we are specifically looking for these additional concessions,” he said.

MEASURES TO CUSHION PANDEMIC
Aside from the private sector, those representing the working class are also hoping for a slice of the pie.

Speaking with Guyana Chronicle, Carvil Duncan, head of the umbrella trade union body, Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Guyana (FITUG), said the trade unions are looking out for employee relief measures.

“The budget will have to reflect that focus on the development of Guyana and the improvement of the livelihoods of the public servants and workers generally because if that don’t happen this trend in the increase of cost of living will not diminish and persons will be worse off,” Duncan said.

He added that: “I am hoping that the budget will also provide relief to pensioners and do something drastic that will reverse this trend that we are having. I don’t expect that overnight but there must be a programme by which they will gradually change the landscape and workers will say to themselves we have elected a government that is sympathetic to the workers’ cause.”

Duncan also highlighted a need for the government to also begin considering increasing the age of retirement of public servants from 55 to 60 years, since 60 is the age at which the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) begins to pay pension.

Duncan explained that after retiring at 55, persons are forced to seek alternative employment until they reach the pensionable age. This leads to a lower salary scale during that five years which then affects a person’s final payment amount from NIS.

“The budget ought to consider addressing the retirement age of pension and remove from the 55 years, so that it can be increased to align with what’s happening at NIS. I’m hoping that some consideration be given to that,” Duncan said.

Dr. Singh, during an interview with the National Communications Network (NCN) on Sunday, had noted that many of the big initiatives which the government had alluded to in its manifesto are expected to be included in the upcoming budget.

According to Dr. Singh, it will step up the pace with respect to rolling out the People’s Progressive Party/ Civic (PPP/C) government’s agenda for transformation, and citizens can expect the launch of a slew of major initiatives this year.

“With respect to the implementation of the transformational agenda to modernise the face of our country with respect to things like [sic] physical infrastructure, a lot of that is going to be happening in 2022. The theme of transformation and modernisation of Guyana is very deeply, and heavily embedded in Budget 2022. It is very transformational in that regard,” the senior minister outlined.

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