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David Granger’s APNU+AFC administration did good for the economy. Even before the advent of ‘First Oil’ analysis of the economy’s performance showed great prospects. Rawle Lucas comparing the early years of the Jagdeo and Granger economies stated: “In the case of the former President, the period of measurement was from 2001 to 2004. In the case of the current President, it was from 2015 to 2018. In the first four years of the Jagdeo administration, the performance of the economy was dismal. The highest growth rate of the economy was 1.9 percent. In the case of Granger, the highest growth rate was 4.1 percent. Granger’s best performance was more than two times better than that of Jagdeo. The slowest growth rate under Granger was better than the best rate of Jagdeo.”
Ceteris paribus, under normal circumstances there is a clear indication where the economy would have been heading, from good to great. Even the Minister within the Office of the President with responsibility for Finance Dr. Ashni Singh recently noted that the Granger administration for two consecutive years, 2017, 2018, did not withdraw money from the Consolidated Fund, an unprecedented financial feat by any Guyanese, perhaps regional, government. By mid-2019, more than a dozen oil well discoveries later, the NASDAQ declared Guyana “the fastest growing economy in the world” with the IMF declaring an 86% growth rate in 2020. Then COVID-19 happened; nothing was normal again. Gleaning from Juan Edghill’s Budget speech last September, the state papers noted growth projected between “48.4 per cent and 51.2 per cent by the end of this year .” The same entity stated most recently, “Guyana continues to lead global economic growth, closing 2020 with an average real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth of 26.2 per cent.”
Our growth rate is being revised downwards. No one expects miracles, if any, will match the plague of an unprecedented period, and we do not need facades. Our people deserve the truth on what it will take to get us from where we are as a nation. Guyana is not alone; there is no need for shame as we are a resilient people. In international publication, Foreign Affairs, recent essay “To Stop a Pandemic”, Jennifer Nuzzo states, “The novel coronavirus hit a world that was singularly unprepared for it. Lacking the capacity to stop the spread of the virus through targeted measures—namely, testing and tracing—countries were left with few options but to shut down their economies and order people to stay at home. Those policies worked well enough to slow the growth of cases by late spring. But over the summer and into the fall, governments faced pressure to relax those restrictions, and cases rose.”
We know the realities here in Guyana. The PPP favoured a rapid reopening of the economy backed by soft enforcement of COVID-19 regulations hoping to produce what Irfaan Ali called in his New Year’s message to the nation the “springboard from which our nation will leap into recovery”. A column, ‘Peeping Tom’, however, recently delivered a dose of reality, stating the springboard “metaphor could not be more inappropriate. It is like saying that hospitalization will be the trigger for recovery. Recovery is more crawling than leaping or springing.”
On the economic front, as others, the nation does not see a sound strategy by the PPP. The National Assembly approved a COVID-19 package last September while pointing out the deficiencies in what the administration proposed. Even with recommendations, noting the financial package needed more work, the government understandably rushed ahead only to amble back for a supplementary budget approval for more COVID cash, the distribution of which is the definition of shambolic. No sooner was approval acquiesced comes the announcement of “a one-off cash grant of $25,000 each to workers of the entire Public Sector, including those who are currently employed at GuySuco”, sums not granted by the House, but which may have been if the present powers were operating within a rudimentary policy framework. In the vacuum comes the current ‘cake shop’ methodology; with three former Ministers of Finance in government this is incredible, epic.
There is now a scramble to compose a team which can focus on the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccines. Some irrelevant bills, frankly speaking given the fierce urgency of the moment, have come before the National Assembly to pad the government’s promised robust legislative agenda but consequential prescriptions as the proposed bill articulating the legal framework for the roll out of vaccines is yet to be tabled. If the last lengthy hiatus is any measure, we can look forward to the National Assembly being reconvened in April. The PPP are not leading forward, they are reversing into the future.
Sherod Avery Duncan, MP