Despite ongoing consultations on Budget 2018, Finance Minister Winston Jordan has revealed that no new tax measures will be taken. Instead, support will be provided to small businesses; and according to him, due consideration will be given to revising Value Added Tax (VAT) on education.
Addressing a press conference on Monday, the minister said the David Granger-led administration has only attempted to broaden the tax net since assumption to office, and will continue to do so to ensure that the pool of persons paying taxes is widened.
“From day one, when we came in we reduced taxes, we removed VAT from a range of products, we removed things like tax on NIS, we ramped-up salaries, we gave one-off bonus to the entire Public Service, and we’ve done quite a bit,” he told the media.
Jordan said certain promises were made to assist various productive sectors, including forestry, and the Government is keen on delivering on them. He also said incentives would be given to small business owners, which would hopefully help to generate economic activity.
He said small businesses and all entrepreneur activities that can increase the pool of household income, community income and the national income are to be considered, encouraged, and grown.
But despite the Government’s continued push to encourage entrepreneurship and small business development, the Opposition Peoples Progressive Party (PPP) has repeatedly criticized Government, stating that Government was visionless and the measures taken cannot help to stimulate economic growth.
“Our focus in the budget now is to make people their own boss; so we are increasingly putting more and more resources that aim to increase the skills pool, and in many ways offering you some assistance,” Minister Jordan said when asked about job creation plans for the budget.
Last year’s budget was used to introduce several new taxes, a development that was heavily criticised by the private sector and the parliamentary Opposition. But despite this, the Minister spoke of Government’s Sustainable Livelihood Programme, which he explained provides $100 million in outright grants.
He argued that entrepreneurship would have to be the driving force for growth. As many persons continue to approach Government for jobs, they would learn to understand that there are only limited jobs available.
“Even the best of Governments tried going into economic activity, and for the most part it has failed. The latest is GuySuCo, and I always say that the one that has kept us going is GuyOil,” he added.
The Finance Minister was also quick to draw reporters’ attention to the budget of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, where several tax increases were introduced because of harsh economic times. He said their budget could be used as an example of why Guyana needs to produce a budget that would not bring undue pressures to bear on the general public.
“We don’t have hurricanes, earthquakes…but we do have our own hurricane; whether it be GuySuCo or something else. And we have to contend with it and deal with it.”
Asked whether the Opposition had taken part in pre-budget consultations, the Finance Minister recalled that the last such consultation the opposition had attended was in 2015. The Opposition has since been writing him requesting documents, and he has never responded because most of the documents are on the internet.
“That is not a basis for consultations,” he said. “Anyhow, no other group or agency asked me for any document, because the consultation says ‘to provide an avenue for an exchange of views’, and the Opposition seems very well attuned to what is going on in Guyana. Every document that could be made public we have made public, including IMF documents.”
Jordan claimed also that the Opposition could as well use the half-year financial reports to “blister” the Government over issues they feel could have been better addressed, and make recommendations to assist with the preparation of the next annual budget.
As part of preparations for Budget 2018, consultations are being held with various stakeholders across Guyana. The budget team plans to meet with several trade union bodies, the private sector and non-governmental organisations.
Budget 2018 will be presented to the National Assembly on November 27.