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By Svetlana Marshall
Warning that the $383.1B Budget proposed by the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Administration can result in a new debt of approximately US$1B, Opposition Member of Parliament, Amanza Walton-Desir, on Monday, described the budget as a “vapid, visionless and vacuous” document.
“In stark terms that is equivalent to five times the amount of money we have in the Natural Resource Fund. To put in even more stark terms Mr. Speaker, if I divide that $200B, which is an approximation of what the debt will be by the end of 2021, if I divide that by 750,000, then you understand the burden that that each citizen, every man, woman and child will have to bear sir,” the A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) Member of Parliament said as she opened the Budget Debate on Monday at the Arthur Chung Conference Centre, where the National Assembly is being convened.
Walton-Desir warned that the next generation of Guyanese will be saddled with a financial burden created by the PPP/C Administration. The MP, who is an Attorney-at-law by profession, said the Irfaan Ali Administration is incurring this high debt, even as it moves to dismantle the sound tax base which was left in place by the APNU+AFC Administration.
“Simply put, this budget 2021 is being financed by destroying the sound tax base that the PPP/C inherited from the Coalition, in preference to borrowing,” she told members on both sides of the House.
From the onset, she rubbished the notion by the PPP/C Administration by that the country’s economy was poorly managed by the APNU+AFC and treasury left empty.
“Mr. Speaker, there is nothing spectacular about this budget. In fact, if there is one spectacular feature, it is the fact that in August 2020, the PPP inherited an economy that was experiencing meteoric growth. The Minister of Finance has grudgingly admitted that that GDP for 2020 had mounted to an unprecedented 43.5% and that inflation was at 0.9%,” MP Walton-Desir said.
She added: “Mr. Speaker it is impossible on every and any scale, for a government to change hands in August and by December, these are the numbers. Instead, it is clear and unmistakable evidence of the economy inherited from the APNU+AFC government, and evidence of the capable stewardship of the economy from 2015-2020.”
Zooming in on the Public Sector Investment Programme (PSIP), MP Walton-Desir submitted that while there is nothing wrong with the programme, the PPP/C Administration has a “nasty” record of failing to effectively execute its projects and programmes to the detriment of the Guyanese people.
“The Skeldon Factory, the road to the Amaila Falls Hydro-Power projects, the Marriott Hotel, the wharves that floated away, the Kato School which after spending one billion dollars the PPP/C still couldn’t complete. The Coalition had to complete that project. And Mr. Speaker its wasn’t just these large projects, in every town and every village where work was done, residents were besieged by shoddy, overpriced infrastructural works, on roads, drainage and irrigation, schools….every conceivable aspect. This is known… this is no conjecture, one simply has to go back to the dailies prior to 2015 and the stories are there,” the Opposition MP pointed out.
She said the Government is proposing to double the PSIP at a time when the private sector lacks the manpower, machinery and expertise to execute some of the ambitious projects outlined in the budget, particularly during this COVID-19 pandemic.
“Now as if this were not alarming enough Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Finance has declared that his administration intends to return the public procurement systems, processes and procedures instituted pre-2015.
We all know what the pre-2015 procurement system yielded: sole sourcing of drug contracts; contract splitting; overpayment of contractors; inflated engineers estimates; evaluation bias in favour of certain contractors; blatant discrimination against certain suppliers and contractors; the use of inexperienced contractors; the absence of District Tender boards and the lack of a Bid Protest Committee; poorly prepared bid documents and the limited publication of awards, to name a few,” the APNU+AFC MP added.
According to her, the Government has fired all of the highly trained, qualified staff of the National Procurement and Tender Administration, the majority being Afro-Guyana. To further compound the situation, MP Walton-Desir said the Government has moved to appoint the head of PSIP, Chair of the Tender Administration Board, resulting in a massive conflict of interest.
She said contrary to the statements peddled by the Senior Minister within the Office of the President with responsibility for Finance, Dr. Ashni Singh, under the APNU+AFC Government, Guyana saw significant progress in implementing procurement policies and processes which promoted fairness and transparenc.
Notably, she said the Public Procurement Commission was constituted in 2016, and by 2019, several amendments were made to the Procurement Act which saw the establishment of a register of bidders, the requirement for the submission of procurement plans and regulations for the suspension and debarment of errant contractors.
Further she said the budget offers little support to small businesses. “Glaringly absent from the Budget Mr. Speaker is any specific relief measure to cushion small business from the effects of the pandemic” an aid in their recovery. In fact the micro, the small and the medium -scale enterprises have suffered the same fate under budget 2021. Mr. Speaker, the paltry 250 million set aside for the Small business development fund will make no appreciable impact. So despite the grandiose promises, this administration has one again failed small businesses,” she told the House.