Budget 2023 reflects government’s values, commitment to providing social services
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Minister of Tourism, Industry and Commerce, Oneidge Walrond,
Minister of Tourism, Industry and Commerce, Oneidge Walrond,

-Minister Walrond says in response to Opposition’s empty budget claims

THE more than $250 billion or almost one third of the 2023 budget that is dedicated to massive provisions for health, education, housing and water, and other social sectors, is a true representation of what the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) government values.

However, the government’s challenge is to manage spending in a way which ensures that inflation is restricted to a mangeable level, and the country can grow at a pace which can be sustained.

This is how Minister of Tourism, Industry and Commerce, Oneidge Walrond, explained her take on Budget 2023, when she rose to the floor of the National Assembly on Tuesday to make her contribution to the debate.

“If you look at the budget you will see that almost one third of all spending is dedicated to providing social services which directly impacts [sic] hundreds of thousands of Guyanese, every day, in every county, in every region, in every town, in every village, in every community in the country. That is the real reflection of our values,” Walrond said.

“If you examine budgets of the PPP/C government over the decades you will see those values consistently reflected in them. I see all the fundamental objectives to which the PPP/C has always been committed. But still the Opposition says there’s nothing in the budget for ordinary people, and we must treat with that,” she said.

According to Walrond, successive PPP/C governments have always focused on and paid attention to several fundamental development imperatives, which include ensuring that all citizens have access to education, healthcare, to safe drinking water and affordable access to basic food items.

“We cannot take them for granted because it is evident that our colleagues on the Opposition benches neither understand nor believe in the importance of these things for development,” she added.

However, the minister questioned how these fundamental imperatives are valued by the main political Opposition, the A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) led by the People’s National Congress/Reform (PNC/R) and the Alliance For Change (AFC).

“When the Opposition says to the people that there is nothing for them in the budget that provides over $250 billion …[for] healthcare, education, housing and portable water for hundreds of thousands of Guyanese. This is simply a reflection of the fact that the Opposition places no value on these things,” Walrond contended.

She further asserted that the main Opposition continues to maintain a claim of there being nothing in the budget for the people is because the Opposition looks at each budget in isolation, rather than see them as part of a multi-year programme, which is why the budget is framed in the context of a medium-term expenditure framework.

Walrond challenged the sustainability behind many of the measures being lobbied for by the main Opposition, including doubling of the minimum wage, and provisions of subsidies for utilities and fuel.

According to the Opposition, government should use the money being garnered from the sale of the country’s oil and gas to supplement these measures.

However, Walrond called on the Opposition to say how the country is to deal with the fall out if there is to be a sudden drop in oil prices on the world market.

“Their attitude is basically we have oil money so spend it. With this type of thinking, what would they have us do when surely as night follows day the oil prices drop.

“We’ve seen oil prices as high as $140 per barrel and as low as $20 per barrel. When we no longer have oil revenue to apply the subsidies, will they have us remove all those subsidies and expose Guyanese to massive sticker shock? If increasing the wage bill to unsustainable levels, will they have us do massive retrenchment? We can look to history again to see what they will do when the oil prices drop after they rack up the expenditure to unsustainable levels.”

She pointed out that this does not mean that the government is not cognisant of the effects global inflation has been having on the Guyanese people, or has not been putting measures in place.

Noting that the largest contributor to inflation is the price of fuel and petroleum products, including fertilisers, which is critical to Guyana’s agriculture industry, Minister Waldron pointed to the government’s decision to completely remove the excise tax on fuel, and distribute $1 billion in free fertiliser across the country as just two measures from last year when the government stepped in to cushion the impact of the cost-of-living increases.

In the 2023 budget, the government has also sustained the removal of excise taxes on fuel.

“Were it not for these policies, food prices would have been far higher than they are now. So how can anyone rationally contend that we have done nothing to deal with the cost of living?”

“The IDB in its Caribbean quarterly report recognised all of these measures as policy responses aimed at easing the impact [of rising cost of living] on the population. The IDB recognises them, but the Opposition tells people they don’t exist.”

Questioning the Opposition’s policy on employment, Walrond reminded that if the APNU+AFC believed in people’s ability to earn a living through dignified work, then they would not have dismissed over 7,000 sugar workers, and over 2,000 community service workers during their time in office. Nor would they mock the current part-time work initiative implemented by the government.

“No party if it truly cares for people would retrench almost 10,000 people and walk away without a backward glance. There is a lesson here, that lesson is that value matters,” she added.

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