Only “broken promises and idle chatter” from APNU/AFC Govt – Ali
Fifteen months after it was elected on a pro-youth platform with promises to thousands of jobs for youths, getting them more involved in the decision-making process at the national level, and channel more resources for their development, the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) coalition Government is coming in for some harsh criticisms for its about-turn on these promises, particularly with regards to creating employment.
The APNU/AFC in its 2015 Election Manifesto stated that it was willing and ready to create jobs for all the youths in Guyana.
But now, 15 months later, former Commerce Minister and current opposition Member of Parliament Irfaan Ali, a youth advocate himself, is lambasting the government for what he described as “broken promises and idle chatter.”
Ali said the government has swiftly changed its tune of creating youth employment to now telling young people to “find your own jobs”, recalling that no less a person than President David Granger declaring that creating employment is not government’s business, a line echoed by Minister of Finance Winston Jordan.
“Job seekers should go to the small business place and start a business instead of looking for a job,” Jordan was quoted as saying.
This was coupled with a recent charge by Minister of Agriculture Noel Holder to graduates to start their own businesses if they have difficulties securing jobs.
“Based on these utterances, it is clear that the government has absolutely no intention of fulfilling its promise to the youth by providing them with better paying jobs that would offer the kind of satisfaction our ministers enjoy from the 50 per cent increase in salary. Instead the coalition government seems to be more interested in deluding the youths again by parroting ‘entrepreneurship’ as the panacea for youth unemployment,” Ali said in a statement.
He said while one cannot dispute that entrepreneurship may help in reducing unemployment in Guyana, it should be noted that the government is simply loud on the rhetoric but silent with on offering fiscal and other measures to assist entrepreneurs and small businesses.
“Where are the fiscal measures to promote entrepreneurship or small businesses in Guyana? Or to put the question differently, what is the government doing to help small businesses?” Ali said, is the big question.
He said given its inability to deliver jobs for the youths, the coalition government is now attempting to dupe young people into starting their own business.
“However, the coalition stopped short of informing the youths that it has done little to support businesses since assuming office last year. As a matter of fact, the coalition has punished businesses with more taxes, destroyed the enabling environment created by the PPP to support businesses, unleashed political creatures like SARU/SOCU to criminalise legitimate businesses, and is focused on making it hard for entrepreneurs and small businesses to operate in Georgetown,” Ali declared.
As a matter of fact, Ali, who shares the honour of being one of the youngest cabinet ministers in Guyana, said the measures presented in the last two budgets were more harmful to businesses, pointing to the increase in more than 150 licence fees, ranging from hucksters to rice millers.
“Businesses are dying. This is evident from the negative growth reported for all the key sectors. The exponential growth in non-performing loans also confirms that businesses are in distress. At the end of March 2016 non-performing loans accounted for 11.7 per cent of the total loans offered by all the commercial banks. Even more worrying is the fact that some banks reported ratios of non-performing loans to total loans as high as 25.57 per cent, 10.51 per cent and 11.12 per cent and reserves for loan losses as a percentage of non-performing loans at the lowest level over the last 5 years. For the first time in over one decade the country is faced with economic stagnation and a quiet financial crisis,” Ali declared.
He supported his contention with data provided by Minister Jordan during his 2016 Half Year review, which he said could only lead one to conclude that small businesses are partly responsible for the $6.4 billion reported as non-tax revenue for the first six months of 2016.
The amount collected as non-tax revenue from the private sector during 2016 was twice the level reported for the corresponding periods in 2015 and three times the level during the first half of 2014, he pointed out.
The opposition MP said the private sector was dealt further blows when government moved to amend the Value-Added Tax Act to impose 16 per cent VAT on large capital equipment thereby crippling rice farmers, small gold miners, and manufacturing businesses.“Where are the fiscal measures to help small businesses?” or as the Americans would put the question “where is the beef?” he asked, adding that government did not end here, as it is now working to impose higher land rental on leased lands that would further cripple small farmers across the country, despite the abysmal performance of the agriculture, fishing and forestry sectors, which contracted by 10 per cent during the first half of 2016.
He said the rice sector, which recorded unprecedented output levels under the PPP/C, took the hardest hit during the first half of 2016 by recording a 26.2 per cent decline in output due to the mishandling of the PetroCaribe agreement and unwillingness of the government to help the farmers with markets.
Turning his attention to government’s decision to give tax waivers to selected large businesses, Ali said while the government is squeezing small businesses on one hand, on the other hand it is simultaneously offering selected businesses, such as Demerara Distillers Limited tax write-offs that will cost the country billions in revenue.
“As we speak another manufacturing business is likely to benefit similarly since it is preparing to take the government to court for the payment of excise taxes. Since our Attorney General is generous, we can look out for more out of court settlements that will favour the big businesses,” Ali claimed.
He said besides imposing high taxes, the coalition government cannot escape blame for the economic morass that is strangulating local businesses, as almost a year-and-a-half after it came to office there is no comprehensive macroeconomic plan for Guyana.
Ali also accused government of crippling retail and wholesale businesses in the city, pointing to decisions by the APNU/AFC-controlled City Council to remove pavement vendors, imposed an unconscionable $5000 container fee and attempts to install parking meters.