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By Svetlana Marshall
Shadow Finance Minister in the National Assembly, Member of Parliament Juretha Fernandes said the $552.9B National Budget presented by the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Administration will offer no real benefit to the working class, and charged that the economy has been poorly managed since the change in Administration in August 2020.
“It lacks focus on the working class,” she said of the budget in an interview with Village Voice News on Thursday.
Before analysing the menu of measures proposed by the Administration, Fernandes submitted that the Budget, as presented by the Finance Minister, Dr. Ashni Singh, confirms the failure of the PPP/C Administration.
In making her case, Fernandes said the non-oil Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which is estimated to have grown by 4.6% in 2021, must be considered alongside the 2019 and 2020 GDP. It was pointed out that the non-oil economy contracted by 7.3% in 2020 but was projected to expand by 6.1% in 2021. Fernandes therefore concluded that the non-oil GDP growth of 4.6% represents a missed target by the Irfaan Ali Administration.
“Today in 2022, Guyana’s non-oil economy is worse off than it was in 2019,” Fernandes opined. Notably, the country recorded an economic growth of 4.5% in 2019.
Cementing her case, she pointed out that the Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing Sector contracted by 9.1% in 2021. It was noted that while the Manufacturing Sector grew by 3.5% in 2021, rice and sugar manufacturing have declined by 16.1% and 34.7% respectively.
Similarly, the Extractive Industries expanded by 36.5% – a growth driven mainly by the expansion in the Oil and Gas Sector but two of Guyana’s main subsectors – gold and bauxite contracted in 2021. According to the Finance Minister, the production and sale of bauxite declined by 3.8% while gold mining contracted by 14.8% in 2021.
“It reported a failure of the PPP/C Administration for 2021, and those numbers are clear as day, anyone could go and check it,” the Shadow Finance Minister opined.
Turning her attention to the budgetary allocations, the Opposition MP said the size of the budget – $552.9B – the largest in the country’s history – comes as no surprise, explaining that despite fierce objection, the PPP/C Administration, less than a month ago, rammed the Natural Resources Fund Bill of 2021 through the National Assembly, in an effort to get access to the country’s oil revenues.
She said much to the country’s disappointment, the budget, despite being fueled by the oil revenues, offers no significant benefit to the regular man in the street as she pointed to the measures outlined by the Finance Minister.
Minister Anthony said in an effort to provide relief to taxpayers, the Government will increase the monthly income tax threshold from $65,000 to $75,000 – a move, he said will release a total of $1.3B into the hands of current taxpayers both in the public and private sectors.
However, Fernandes said that the increase in the income tax threshold marks the first since the PPP/C took Office in 2020, and therefore represents a $10,000 increased from 2020-2022. Such she deemed to be unacceptable. According to her, the income tax threshold should have been increased to at least $100,000 as was recommended by the APNU+AFC Coalition.
Fernandes said she is not against the school uniform and the ‘Because We Care’ Grants, however, she is of the opinion that the grants when combined will not significantly benefit school-aged children when compared to the school feeding programs and the B’s initiatives that were implemented under the David Granger Administration.
In 2022, the uniform allowance will increase from $4,000 to $5,000 while the grant will increase to $25,000 from $20,000 – a combined total of $30,000 per child. However, Fernandes said when divided by 12 (the 12 months in the year), it will work out to $2,500 per month.
“When the APNU+AFC was in office, focus was placed on transporting children to school and providing them with meals and books, and boots and bicycles,” she reminded while noting that the monthly value of such initiatives are greater when compare to $2,500.
The Opposition MP also poured cold water on the increases offered to pensioners and persons on the public assistance programme. The Public Assistance Programme, will increase the payment from $12,000 to 14,0000 – an increase of $2,000 while the Old Age Pension will be increased by $3,000, moving from $25,000 to $28,000.
Fernandes submitted that the increases are paltry when one considers the size of the budget, and the use of the oil revenues.
She, however, welcomed the reduction of the excise tax rate on fuel, but questioned whether regulations are in place to ensure the regular consumers benefit. She posited that while the excise tax rate on gasoline and diesel has been reduced from 20% to 10%, Guyanese are questioning whether or not there will be a reduction in public transportation fares. Fernandes said while the PPP/C Administration believes in trickledown economics, it is not effective.