Opposition Leader Dr Bharrat Jagdeo is calling on President David Granger and Cabinet to withdraw the 2017 Budget in its entirety or at least not proceed with the offensive measures that were included as proposals when Finance Minister Winston Jordan presented the National Estimates for the upcoming fiscal year on Monday last.
Jagdeo met with the local media at the Leader of the Opposition Office on Church Street, Georgetown, on Friday and urged the Executive to pay heed to the numerous exhortations of civil society, labour, and the private sector, over the negative impacts of the many punitive measures instituted in Budget 2017.
In calling for the withdrawal of the budget in its current construct, the Opposition Leader pointed to measures such as the proposed imposition of the Value Added Tax (VAT) on electricity, water, educational and medical supplies.
Jagdeo used the occasion to seek to deflect blame from the Finance Minister saying, “This is not Winston Jordan Budget it is the Executive Budget.”
According to Jagdeo, it would simply be unproductive going after the Finance Minister as bearing sole responsibility for what is presented in the 2017 Budget.
Jagdeo said it is Head of State, President David Granger, who bears full responsibility for the Budget since it represents the collective will of the Cabinet Counsel of Ministers, which he leads.
The Opposition Leader said it is in this context that he has called for the withdrawal of the Budget and points to the fact that since it is an early budget there is time to deliberate on the contentious matters with a view to making positive amendments.
Jagdeo said it is imperative of President Granger to listen to the concerns being expressed by stakeholders in society, and to “remove some of the most offensive, oppressive measures that will devastate the lives of many poor people.”
Effects on productive sector
He suggested that the provisions in the Budget will also have a debilitating effect on Guyana’s productive sector; something he surmised could not have been the intention of the President.
The Opposition Leader said there is an urgent need to convene a forum at which the opposition People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) will be happy to participate, in order to seek to avoid the draconian measures embedded in Budget 2017.
“We are prepared, if such a process is initiated to collaborate with Government, to share our ideas as to how we can achieve the objectives of growing our country, creating incentives for the private sector and enhancing the welfare of ordinary people without implementing these draconian measures.”
According to Jagdeo, there is no paucity of ideas on the part of the PPP/C saying, “we have lots of ideas; we don’t have to resort to these extreme measures.”
The Opposition Leader has since suggested too that the measures outlined by the Finance Minister are in fact, not in keeping with the stated objectives of Head of State Granger. Objectives, he noted, that have since been replaced with provisions that are offensive and antithetical to stated objectives of the President.
Speaking specifically to some of the measures with which the PPP/C has objection, Jagdeo singled out the imposition of an Environment Tax which he juxtaposed with the President’s strategy of greening the economy.
According to the Opposition Leader, under the Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS) – since discarded as too narrow by Government – Guyana earned monies from the sale of carbon.
Jagdeo observed that under the current proposals, Government will not forego any revenue with its proposal of concessions on the import of things such as electric cars and charging stations since these are ideals yet to be realized.
He noted on the other hand, that billions of dollars will in fact be collected from the people of Guyana through the Environmental Tax.
Companies will have to pass on the additional expense to the families of this country, according to the Opposition Leader.
“The people of this country will now have to pay for the so called greening of the economy and it has become a revenue raising measure on the backs of people,” Jagdeo said, as against the concept of earning money through the sale of forest and carbon-related services.
The Opposition Leader pointed too to the seeming double standards by Government with regards its push towards a more ICT-driven economy, yet it institutes a tax on the data service to be used.
Jagdeo noted that no ICT strategy or knowledge based industry that is based on the closing of the digital divide and creating new low carbon opportunities could be sustained on expensive bandwidth: “What Government has just done is to push up the cost of bandwidth to people.”
Chief Executive Officer of the Guyana Telephone and Telegraph Company Justin Nedd, had a day earlier cautioned that the move by Government will see that telephone company having to pass on the additional charges to consumers with conservative early estimates placing that figure at just over $1.2 billion.
“So how could you close the digital divide, how could you operate or say you want to support a knowledge-based industry and then levy a tax on the platform that drives this industry which is cheap data,” the former President said.
According to Jagdeo, the 2017 Budget is replete with instances where there is case to be made for reconsideration of the proposed provisions.
Speaking of amendments related to the mining sector, Jagdeo lamented the proposal to no longer pay a two per cent tax in addition to royalties as final payments.
With the proposals, small- and medium-scale miners will now be required to have the entirety of their income be subjected to income or corporation taxes, as Jagdeo questioned how such measures could be helpful to the small- and medium-scale miners.
He used the occasion to also lament the new requirements on the part of the Guyana Revenue Authority to require all businesses to maintain records.
Similar to sentiments expressed a day earlier by the Private Sector Commission, the former President said the new requirement could see thousands of persons being unable to satisfy the requirements.
According to Jagdeo, this would mean that thousands of Guyanese could be sent to jail for six months at a time or be made to pay punitive fines of $200,000.
He said the move could affect miners and small business owners across the country—a provision that should be removed: “Many, thousands of Guyanese across the country could end up in jail…That signal is a wrong signal and should be replaced…I believe those provisions should be removed from the Act.” (Guyana Times)