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By Svetlana Marshall
Leader of the Alliance For Change (AFC), Khemraj Ramjattan said the 2022 National Budget sends a daunting message that under the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Administration, Guyana’s economy will become overly reliant on the Oil and Gas Industry much to the detriment of other critical sectors.
“This budget, in my opinion, is sadly reflecting how oil will become dominant in this economy to the marginalisation and minimisation of the non-oil sector. This is as striking as it is dangerous,” the A Partnership for National Unit + Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) Member of Parliament told the National Assembly as he opened Day 2 of the Budgetary Debates on Tuesday.
Explaining that oil and gas are non-renewable resources, and once exhausted cannot be replaced, Ramjattan said it important for the country to develop the non-oil sectors to avoid heavy reliance on the Oil and Gas Industry. Warning the country to be cautious, the Opposition MP said the necessary steps must be taken to prevent the “Revenue Curse” or the “Dutch Disease.”
“…we must prevent that from ever happening, as we know it has happened in our neighbouring country Venezuela,” he told the House. Turning his attention to Agriculture Sector, for which he oversees, Ramjattan told the National Assembly that contrary to the impression given by the PPP/C Administration, the APNU+AFC Government, during its five years in Office (2015-2022), injected significant funds into the development of the country’s Agriculture Sector.
He said in an attempt to address flooding in critical areas of the country, the APNU+AFC Administration purchased the first cutter dredge, and in addition to that, constructed 22 coastal pump stations and two major sluices in Regions 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6. He said much to the benefit of cattle and vegetable farmers in Region 9, eight harvesting systems were established.
“In the intermediate savannahs, there were 17 kilometers from the Tacoma to Ebini Road that was constructed with three concrete bridges,” he reminded the House while rubbishing claims by the Minister of Agriculture Zulfikar Mustapha that no developments took place under the APNU+AFC Administration.
He noted that billions of dollars were spent on drainage and irrigation, and millions more on the Sugar Industry, even as the APNU+AFC Administration took a decision to “right-size” the industry.
“In our first 36 months, we spent a billion dollar per year just to keep GuySuCo surviving but they felt that, we must like them make that which is so unprofitable and a black hole, we must pour money…[into the industry],” the Opposition Parliamentarian pointed out while adding further that a $30B bond was also secured for the restructuring of the industry.He made it clear that the APNU+AFC Administration never closed the Sugar Industry down but rather right-sized it.
Guyana’s first state-of-the-art Toxic Chemical Storage Facility (2015), and Chemical Residue Laboratory (2019) were also constructed under the David Granger Administration, Ramjattan boasted while adding too that the Pesticides and Toxic Chemical Laboratory was also recommissioned, following which, it received the necessary certification. He said the PPP/C Government is benefiting from the programmes and projects initiated and executed under the APNU+AFC Administration, and such cannot be denied.
He said since taking Office, the PPP/C Administration has been marred by allegations of corruption as he referenced to the recent distribution of the flood relief cash grants, which had resulted in calls by farms for an investigation to be launched into the qualification and distribution processes.
“Democracy does not only mean winning an election, it means good governance; and good governance means transparency; good governance means allowed to scrutinize; and especially the country’s moneys,” he said while underscoring
The Opposition MP submitted that the Budget is “highly flawed,” lacks vision and transparency.
But in firing back at the Opposition, Agriculture Minister said the APNU+AFC Government had reduced Guyana to a “dog food,” “plantain chip” and “fire engine” economy. In defending the $552.9B Budget proposed by his Government, will create thousands of jobs. He contended that the $6B allocated to the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) alone, will create tens of thousands of jobs.
“… when we invest another $6B, we will create more jobs, tens of thousands of jobs, and we will help tens of thousands of families, and we will put into the village economy more cash and thousands of people are benefitting, not only the sugar workers, but people who live in the community and will depend on the sugar industry indirectly. So, we will continue to support all our industries in this country,” he told the House.
He said the Rice Industry is also expected to grow significantly in 2022. It is projected to grow by approximately 25%. “Over the next five years we predict a tremendous increase in annual rice production,” he added, while contending that under the APNU+AFC, rice production decreased.
“When we took Government in 2020, rice farmers had to pay $15,000 per acre for D&I charges and land rental, we brought that down to $3,500 per acre and because with that one measure, rice farmers were able to save almost $1.6B,” he told the House, while adding that VAT on agricultural inputs and agricultural machinery was also removed.
However, Opposition Member of Parliament, Dawn Hastings Williams told the House that the Agriculture Minister’s presentation lacked substance and offered no clear clarity on the utilization of the $6B for the Sugar Industry.