A budget pregnant with progressive possibilities
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GUYANA’S $552.9 Billion (US$2.6Billion) 2022 National Budget, also involving US$607 Million from oil-and-gas earnings, is pregnant with positive progressive possibilities and government has laid-out plans to spend it widely (but not wildly), to make life better for all Guyanese.

The President’s curtain-raising preview signalled that the biggest national budget in the nation’s history will aim at: lowering cost-of-living, creating opportunities, enhancing welfare, livelihoods and living conditions, supporting new businesses, ensuring more oil-and-gas opportunities for Guyanese companies, lowering income taxes, increasing disposable incomes, reducing fuel costs, funding education and youth development, etc.

The ‘Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure’ will be debated by MPs with presentations coloured by how they see their roles in politics — as honourable public service for agreed salaries, or serving the public for personal reward (private and public).

But traditional public mistrust in governments and politicians’ handling of taxpayers’ money are such everywhere today that all governments are treated as ‘usual suspects…’

Taxpayers interested in following the money have learned the hard way (or taught to believe) that when it comes to distinguishing between filling their private wallets or the public purse, politicians — supposedly greedy by nature — simply cannot resist opportunities to get rich in office.

But the conversion of ‘cleaning-up’ theories (like Transparency and Accountability) into effective practice is never as fast as transactions between the public purse and private pockets, wallets and bank accounts.

Organisation of American States (OAS) diplomats tried hard in the early 21st Century to influence CARICOM governments to adopt laws requiring political parties to declare sources of election finances, but failed — if only because in the few places where such policies exist, party lawyers have always got a legal way around it.

Same with laws for declaring ‘personal income’ for tax purposes: In most places it’s not illegal to ‘avoid’ tax, but a crime to ‘evade’ the taxman.

It all boils down to public perceptions, which determine how the main political actors play the budget act, especially with a post-colonial Caribbean mantra still very-much alive in the era of independence: that any politician who serves in government and leaves office ‘poor’ is seen as having ‘wasted’ his or her ‘time’ — by not pinching the public purse.

Examples exist in every CARICOM nation (and this real debate about whether or how politicians should be ‘rewarded’ for their ‘sacrifices’ in representative politics, will never end…)
Take Saint Lucia’s George F.L. Charles (after whom the Vigie Airport in Castries is named).

An ordinary trade unionist and working-class champion from the 1938 West Indian revolutions through to the post-war struggles for voting rights and formation of political parties under colonialism, he was also Founder Leader of the island’s first political party (Saint Lucia Labour Party) in 1945.

Charles became Saint Lucia’s first Chief Minister (in 1951) and led the SLP in five successive election victories between 1951 — until 1964, when he and his party were cheated out of office by a post-election opposition alliance that defied and reversed the electorate’s expressed will.

This true national hero never recovered from that act of political treachery; and he was never celebrated in his latter life — even after Independence in 1979 — until the SLP returned to office in 1997 and he was knighted in 1998.

Sir George died virtually penniless in 2004, but with the honour and dignity of never having been accused of dipping his hands into the people’s kitty.

Yet, you’ll still find many Caribbean people today who’ll say he ‘wasted’ his time in office because he didn’t use the opportunity to ‘make some money…’

Lack of public trust in governments and politicians’ handling of public finances is a subject widely covered by the mainstream media, but more for the headline value of stories about politicians dipping their hands into the national cookie jar than to teach people how to better watch who’s holding the national purse strings.

So, when it comes to budget presentations, saucy headlines will always sell more than stories loaded with endless facts and figures, minefields of statistics and innumerable statements of intent.
Most of the projects to be undertaken with the funds allocated in Guyana’s third budget since the 2020 elections will also have been promised earlier by every previous Guyana government, but when the money was just not there.

Now that pennies are floating in fuel with oil-and-gas revenues outstripping taxpayers’ contributions, until and unless the next Leader of the Opposition decides to break with tradition, the new projects with new money will simply again be the subject of the old traditional protracted parliamentary debates about which party can do better with the same amount of dollars — and more sense.

This annual staged reality play plays-out in Westminster-type parliamentary theatres through structured debates featuring square-offs between intractably-opposing ‘sides’, instead of a give-and-take discussion between people’s elected representatives (and fellow citizens) with a common national interest, sharing ideas on how best to ensure the nation’s biggest-ever Consolidated Fund is best well-spent, across the country, to the benefit of all.

‘For the benefit of all’ used to be regarded as socialist utopia, but that was once-upon-a-time.

Guyana’s two major political parties, which both embraced progressive socialist thought in the worst of economic times, today have an equal possibility of, together, with their respective parliamentary allies, ensuring social and economic policies are adopted that will help increase people’s confidence in politicians holding national purse strings.

Neither major party is still today what it was under the leadership of Dr Cheddi Jagan or L.F.S. Burnham – and nor is Guyana, as climate change is also reflected, though still largely inequitable, in today’s politics and economic fortunes.

The doors are wide open for progress in promoting and piloting progressive political possibilities in a people’s Parliament, even for creating a new patriotic coalition for national development, in the new dispensation.

It can, but will it happen?
Here again, it all depends

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