By The Piper
Minister Winston Jordon will now be in the limelight, as he should be. Being the star, however, has its risks, and the Minister will soon find out that talking finance and constructing a budget are vastly different enterprises. Mr. Jordon has a chance to show his metal, or on the contrary, expose his inadequacies to a watchful nation.
To date, the Minister has been mostly general and speculative in his comments. The one time when he attempted to be hard hitting he was forced into a less than graceful withdrawal. On that occasion, Jordon stated that Guyana’s foreign debt stands at US$ 1.6 billion, a figure that turned out to be wrong by a humongous US$400 million. Following Dr. Ashni Singh’s challenge for proof of Jordon’s claims, the Minister had no option but to publicly apologise.
Minister Jordon must walk a tight rope strung by big election time promises and the basic laws of economics and state finances. A few questions come to mind.
Will the Minister be able to deliver on the massive raise for the public service that it touted? Everyone wants a raise, but can the nation afford it? Many workers are expecting in excess of fifteen per cent raises. While that would make for happy faces, it would also add to strains on state finances if the VAT is also cut, the latter being another big APNU+AFC promise during the elections. If both measures are put into effect, and if the slowdown in the economy continues, the APNU+AFC government will be forced to cut services that will hurt the poor and the middle classes.
Under these circumstances, the raise the coalition government wants to give cabinet members will produce a veritable crisis of legitimacy. The APNU+AFC must seriously rethink cutting the $10,000 grant to families with children in school. Minister Jordon has a real opportunity to demonstrate he has both wisdom and courage by pushing back against those in the coalition who want to take away this subsidy. $10,000 to poor families is not a gimmick, even if it surfaced during an election campaign. If Jordon goes ahead with the cut, while at the same time reducing the Berbice Bridge toll, he would be likely charged with helping well-off vehicle owners over poor families.
Budgets are not simply instruments of balancing the books; a good budget must also demonstrate vision, meaning a long term plan for advancement of sustainable development. This is what the nation will be looking at with a critical eye. The one route that Minister Jordon must not be tempted with is to construct a development plan based on projected oil revenues. Mexico tried this stunt under President Miguel De La Madrid’s sexeino when new hydro-carbon discoveries flattered the state into a spending binge. Minister Jordon needs to check the record on that experiment.
Finally, the budget will be subjected to intense debates in the parliament, the people’s house. Jordon will face new PPP opposition leader Bharrat Jagdeo, who has some real credentials in economics. The fight is on, and the nation waits.