…as Opposition Leader presents ‘alternative’ measures
Finance Minister Dr Ashni Singh on Friday evening wrapped up a week-long debate in the National Assembly on the proposed $781.9 billion Budget 2023 and according to him, the lack of competence and capacity of the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) Opposition was on full display.
Dr Singh pointed out that the budget debates allowed Government Members of Parliament (MPs) to further elaborate on the host of policies and programmes contained in Budget 2023, while similarly offering the Opposition MPs the opportunity to present alternative visions and proposals for Guyana – something which they failed to take advantage of.
“What we were treated to over the last five days was their complete lack of competence and capability… Instead of presenting alternative vision for Guyana; instead of proposing alternative policies and programmes and initiatives, they regurgitate the standard and overworked and tired, old and overuse diatribe… which has been the subject of multiple rounds of scrutiny by the people of Guyana, which was roundly and robustly rejected by the people of Guyana in March 2020,” he posited.
The finance minister was at the time responding to a host of “lofty” alternative measures presented by Opposition Leader Aubrey Norton, during his contributions to the debates.
Contending that Budget 2023 does not cater to the people of Guyana, Norton outlined what he described as a people-centred ‘alternatives’ that he says are geared to improve the quality of life of Guyanese.
He noted that Budget 2023 has “badly allocated” Guyana’s resources which should have gone towards addressing the needs of people and cushion the rising cost of living.
Among the alternative measures presented by Norton is a 50 per cent wages and salary increase for public servants, wavier of electricity and water charges for low-income, removal of income tax for those living below the poverty line, vouchers for public transportation operators to access lower gas prices and reduction of the Value-added Tax (VAT) to 12%.
Norton concluded saying that his party’s “…people centred vision aims at giving peoaple all across Guyana what they want… We recommend to you that you borrow from our people-centred vision and bring a Budget that allows our people to develop… This budget asphyxiates the poor man… I cannot afford to support this Budget.”
In rebuttal, however, Minister Singh called Norton’s presentation a bloviation, adding that his proposals of targeted tax breaks and people-centred development were all “lofty sounding words” without any real substance.
He went onto point out the failure of the APNU/AFC to fulfil their promises in the 2020 Election Manifesto. “We want to hear how you performed… and why did you not deliver your promises to your people – tax reform, increase salaries… The reality is that the APNU/AFC has long history of selling pipedreams, hot air and bloviating,” the minister stated.
According to Dr Singh, Norton’s proposal is steep in theory but void in practice and practicality. He said they Opposition rolled out a long list of policies that includes heavy spending especially on government consumption.
“Norton read out his long list of 20 items [and] none of them don’t involve constrained spending, and none of them involved income generation and revenue generation. Every single item involved surrendering more government revenue and expending more government finances,” the Finance Minister detailed.
He further highlighted the many inconsistencies between positions taken by Opposition MPs and contents of Norton’s alternative plans such on the issue of deficits and debt, on agriculture and job creation.
The minister said the APNU/AFC, which has since separated as a Coalition after not renewing their agreement in December, is now merely a “collective of convenience” that is completely devoid of any credibility and competency.
Dr Singh outlined that while implementing measures proposed by the opposition such as tax breaks would give government a political nudge, it is not feasible in the long haul.
“Successive PPP/C governments, not only this one, have refused to mortgage the future of this country at the altar of short-term expediency. We’re not going to pursue short term popularity by saying to people we’re going to reduce your taxes… because we’re a government for the long haul.”
“And we’re frank with the people of Guyana. We say look ‘we can’t reduce the taxes to zero, the government needs to raise tax revenues. We’re going to try overtime to be able to progressively reduce the taxes. But what was astonishing is how out of touch Mr Norton was… They are so out of touch with reality and the way things work,” the minister noted.
Listens to Guyanese
According to the finance minister, the PPP/C Administration speaks and listens to the Guyanese people every day and has a fairly good sense of what their priorities are and will deliver on those.
“We will continue to manage the economy of Guyana to ensure that the things that people need fixing now are fixed,” he noted. These include fixing community roads, health centres, fixing schools, providing tertiary and TVET education to prepare youths for job opportunities and also investing in the capital stock, that is, the major road and bridge projects that will generate long term economic growth in Guyana.
This, Dr Singh stressed, is consistent with the theme of the $781.9 billion Budget 2023 – “Improving Lives Today, Building Prosperity for Tomorrow”.
The finance minister reminded that the people of Guyana were given an opportunity to experience the governance of both parties over the years and noted that the Opposition’s presentation over the past week has vindicated the Guyanese people’s decision to put the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) in office to take the country through this unprecedented period of transformation.
“We endured for five days, on the one hand, a display by APNU/AFC of their abject incompetence, ineptitude and inclination for distortion and misrepresentation. Put simply, the people of Guyana were reminded once again why they decided to put the APNU/AFC into opposition in 2020. And similarly, the people of Guyana were reminded of why they decided in 2020 that they wanted to place the governmental responsibility of navigating Guyana, through this very challenging period in our country’s economic history… to task the People’s Progressive Party/Civic with that responsibility by placing us in government. We take that charge seriously and we will discharge it faithfully and diligently,” Minister Singh assured.