ON Monday last, the Senior Minister with responsibility for Finance, Dr Ashini Singh presented the $781.9 billion budget to the National Assembly under the theme: “Improving Lives today, Building Prosperity for Tomorrow.”
The budget took meticulous planning and consultations with key stakeholders; it focused heavily on all the major sectors of the economy.
The PPP/C government was convinced it did a good job, by bringing one of the largest, pro-poor, and economically sound budgets to the House so early in the year. The government felt this budget had all the measures that would set Guyana’s economy further along the trajectory in terms of growth and development.
Soon after, the main opposition parliamentary party, the APNU+AFC, said the budget was not geared towards ordinary folk. It said too that the PPP/C government was inviting more corruption by focusing heavily on capital and infrastructural development as opposed to human development.
Through the Opposition Leader Aubrey Norton, the public heard how the budget did not adequately address the issue of cost of living nor other developmental issues which Guyanese supposedly were concerned about.
He said the budget was anti-working class and anti-poor because it seemed to address the concerns of the private sector and business classes only. Norton then said that as a result of the measures contained in the document, the rich would get richer while the poor gets poorer.
He and all the members of the opposition made it clear that Dr Mohamed Irfaan Ali’s government had failed to present a satisfactory budget.
Firstly, this year’s budget contains measures which are sure to guarantee a far better and more prosperous life in Guyana for the ordinary folk, the working, and the business classes.
It does not promise Guyanese “the good life” as the APNU+AFC did because anything truly good is worth working for and waiting for, after the necessary investments are made in the infrastructure, people, and human and social capital.
Moreso, the budget spends heavily on capital projects, roads, drains, bridges and buildings. This is not opening the door to corruption nor a resource curse. There are checks and balances in place at every level to fight actively against corruption whenever and wherever it raises its ugly head.
If one were to have the opportunity of listening to the presentation of Dr Singh and the perusal of the estimates, one would reach the inescapable conclusion that the budget is well-balanced as it addresses the needs of Guyana’s growing population.
It has contained in the measures, increases in the disposal income of which $3B will be spent on salary adjustments to the benefit of 14, 000 healthcare and disciplined services employees.
Additionally, workers also benefit this year from an increase in the income tax threshold from $75, 000 to $85, 000. If this is not investing in people, then what is? After all, the increase may look trivial, but it has a massive impact on the population and fiscal side of things.
Similarly, there is an increase in the ‘Because We Care Cash Grant,’ moving from $25, 000 to $35, 000 and benefitting more than 214, 000 school-aged children.
This is welcome and surely the Guyanese public will be grateful to the government because it is keeping the covenant it made with the people, not like the APNU+AFC who promised several glowing things in the pre-2015 era and went into government and did everything but deliver on those promises.
This is what anyone with commonsense would refer to as marvellous and prudent financial spending.
Secondly, the budget is also geared towards the nation’s working class and every single Guyanese family. There are coins and dollars for every citizen contained in the budget in every imaginable sector, either directly or indirectly, but the opposition must find the money.
It is there in the budget estimates staring at them, but they would not search because it is too much work and effort for them.
Notwithstanding the increased Old Age Pension of $33, 000 and public assistance of $16, 000, all other categories of people will get something more than they had last year.
So, the budget in every socio-economic area is distributing Guyana’s wealth carefully and prudently, not wildly as the opposition would like. There are many other impressive areas of the budget which will no doubt be brought to the fore when the government parliamentarians debate its content from tomorrow.
Thirdly, the APNU+AFC parliamentarians still have to convince right-thinking Guyanese of what is lacking or wrong with the budget, minus all of the opportunistic political statements. Reference is made to the bluff thrown at the Guyanese public by Amanza Desir, Roysdale Forde, Ganesh Mahipaul, Elson Lowe, Catherine Hughes, Khemraj Ramjattan and others.
How can Norton and his brand of APNU+AFC politicians ever face Guyanese with a straight face when the APNU+AFC administration is guilty of almost running sugar, rice, agriculture, bauxite, gold, human services, health and security sectors into the ground?
They are guilty of placing more than 7,000 workers on the breadline and hundreds of other workers were dismissed carrying the unemployment rate to double digits.
The Guyanese public would know that not a single strategy paper or policy was aimed at dealing with poverty and underemployment under the APNU+AFC Government.
The APNU+AFC government was seemingly caught in a “bruk-up” philosophy that saw it playing the politics of race and discrimination. This could be the reason why every time it presented a budget in Parliament during the years 2015 – 2019, it had nothing to do with the needs of the people or the country.
So, Norton has to come up with constructive criticisms and solid ideas that would make the budget more overwhelming, inspiring, responsive and caring.
He must insist that the opposition parliamentarians read the budget and understand why every sector and project was allocated money in this year’s estimates, and why there are sectors that just could not make it.
He must not seem to be representing “his” people but all of Guyana, and must be careful how he talks about GuySuCo and the government’s investment in an industry that has carried this country for many years.
Remember, each time Norton or the Opposition says that the PPP/C government is pouring money down a black hole with GuySuCo, he must be held to the coals for the wastage of money on the Durban Park Project, the controversial drug bond, their intended closing down of the sugar industry, the fiasco at the Public Service Ministry and all the times the APNU+AFC breached the tendering and procurement laws, etc.
Finally, the opposition politicians have a chance to place their intellects on display when they debate the budget. They have the chance to weigh in on every sector and cause serious and lasting embarrassment to the PPP/C government, but can they?
If they stay clear of the political cesspool into which they usually drag the debate, and focus on issues and policies that are substantive to budget 2023, we can have an excellent debate where there is a contest of ideas, plans and opinions. It will be intellect versus political venom, bitterness and rancour.
Expect the usual props, drama, theatrics, emotional, political rhetoric and name-calling to take centre stage.