The APNU/AFC Administration is expected to deliver its fifth budget since taking office in 2015 in the National Assembly today amidst high expectations.
Lurking close behind however is the impending no-confidence motion filed by the Opposition, which if successful would render the expected budget obsolete as the Administration would be forced to hold general elections three months after.
However, if Government survives the scheduled no-confidence motion filed by the Opposition, this would be the penultimate budget before two important events in Guyana’s history: first oil production, and the 2020 General and Regional Elections.
Finance Minister Winston Jordan has often touted the ‘achievement’ of presenting four budgets in just three years, due to its early nature. However, the Parliamentary Opposition has consistently argued that these budgets have done little to enhance the per capita standard of living of the populace.
In fact, the Opposition has argued that the budgets were actually counterproductive and anti-poor. The Opposition has cited several aspects to substantiate its contention in this regard, among which has been the oppressive tax measures.
The Opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP) has not been the only ones to criticise these budgets, which have been presented under the theme ‘The good life continues’; Several private sector bodies have also come out expressing disappointment particularly with Budget 2018, when it comes to job-creating investments, or facilitation of job-creating investments. In addition, financial analysts have had little positive to say about these budgets.
The $267.1 billion Budget for 2018 contained very few benefits, one of which was the increase in public assistance to $8000, which represents an increase of approximately 36 per cent over the period of two and a half years.
Teachers who work in interior locations were also to benefit from the new measures to be implemented for Budget 2018, including an 80 per cent increase in remote area incentives.
In an effort to move and retain teachers in far-flung areas of Guyana, the Finance Minister had said the remote area incentive would be increased from $5000 to $7000, and from $9000 to $12,000. This did little to stave off strikes from teachers at the start of the new school term in 2018, especially since they were dissatisfied with Government’s salary proposals for a new agreement.
The Coalition Government came into office in 2015 promising a ‘good life for all’.
At the 2018 Local Government Elections (LGE) held earlier this month, the governing coalition parties, particularly the Alliance For Change (AFC), received heavy defeats at the hands of the PPP when the people were given their chance to have their say.
Official results from the Guyana Elections Commission show that the PPP won 61 per cent of the vote (122,307). A Partnership for National Unity trails behind with 34 per cent (68,060). The AFC, which had previously said it won 10 per cent, only netted 4 per cent of the votes (8,719).
Soon after the November 12 LGE, Opposition Leader Dr Bharrat Jagdeo announced the filing of a no-confidence motion against the Government. Afterwards, the former President had listed the people-centred measures his party wants the Government to announce in its budget.
“We’d like to see the restoration of the children grant,” he had said. “The same money they’ve increased food in Government by, they can give the children the $10,000 grant. It’s a matter of priorities. They should restore water subsidies for pensioners. Reverse the VAT (Value Added Tax) on electricity, water, medical supplies, food, and machinery.”
Jagdeo had also noted that some other measures he wants the Government to take are: to reduce excise taxes, and reverse the increases in land fees for Mahaica/Mahaicony/Abary (MMA) farmers — increases the farmers have still been unable to meet.
In an advertisement titled ‘Budget 2019, Guyanese expect better’, the PPP listed additional measures Government should announce in its budget. It wants, among other things, the reversal of the ban on vehicles over eight years old; reversal of the ban on importation of used tyres; reversal on increases in water rates.
The party also called for reversal of the 35 per cent incremental increases on University of Guyana tuition fees, as well as reversals of VAT on local products in the forestry sector and the tax on materials and supplies in the fisheries sector.
Government had announced that tax free salary increases by up to seven per cent would be implemented. The disciplined services were to be included in this sum. However, the PPP urges the Government to restore the annual one-month tax free salary bonus it previously gave the disciplined services.
It also called for the restoration of cash grants to public school children from nursery to secondary, and for it to be increased to $20,000; as well as the single parent assistance programme complete with vouchers. In addition, it recommended the restoration of electricity and water subsidies to pensioners and the national housing programme.
“Stop the increased borrowing and depletion of gold and other reserves,” the party’s advertisement also stated. “Stop the extravagant and wasteful spending on travel, food, rentals, vehicles and other things that do not benefit the Guyanese people.”
The party also urged Government to take heed of its own consultant, Norconsult, and to recommence the Amaila Falls Hydro Project. In addition, it recommended Government initiate new infrastructure projects, and not just complete those that were started under the former PPP administration.
Apart from these measures, much expectation will be placed on what the budget contains for the oil and gas sector. With little over a year to go before first oil, Government has been criticised for the slow pace of preparation.
For instance, critical measures like a National Oil Spill Strategy; a constitutional agency to regulate the sector; a national oil company, a local content policy and a Sovereign Wealth Fund are either still in the planning stages or have only been discussed.