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The 2022 National Budget will widen the economic gap between the poor, the working class and the rich, Opposition Member of Parliament, Roysdale Forde, S.C said while contending that the Government, in presenting the $552.9B Budget, has thus far failed to provide a blue print for the equitable distribution of the country’s resources.
Addressing the National Assembly on Friday, Forde said Guyanese, in 2021, witnessed and experienced a rapid deterioration of the social and economic conditions, which were further compounded by the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
“Propelling and or significantly worsening the economic and social decay of the country has been the inept, abysmal handling of the worse public health crisis our country has experienced in a century,” he told his colleagues on both sides of the House.
Forde said evidence of the Government’s mismanagement of the pandemic is glaring, as he referenced to the treatment of persons infected with COVID-19, the acquisition of vaccines unapproved by the World Health Organisation, the alarming spread of the virus throughout the country, and the lax enforcement of Covid-19 Guidelines.
As of Friday, 1,179 persons in Guyana have died from COVID-19 with more than 61,108 infections recorded since March 2020. According to the Health Ministry, there are currently more than 5000 active COVID-19 cases. Forde told the Assembly that the poorly managed pandemic has taken a significant toll on the country’s Education Sector as well as well as the Public Sector with food prices soaring.
“Over 1000 pupils according to the Ministry of Education dropped out of school by August, 2021,” he pointed out, while noting that based on statistics emanating from the Bureau of Statistics, cost of living increased by 14 percent for the first seven months of the 2021.
“This increase in food prices has affected poverty levels, household income and children’s schooling. This has increased the burden on the family, particularly many single parent families led by women.
Women and children are therefore disproportionately affected by the high cost of living. Mr. Speaker, these are the challenges that the Guyanese people face. These are the challenges that the Guyanese people will face after this Budget,” the APNU+AFC MP argued.
He said notwithstanding these challenges, the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Government continues to impose economic policies that are backward, offensive and harsh. According to him, the Government has turned a blind eye to the Village Renewal Programme proposed by the Trade Union Congress, which, if implemented, will help villages to cope with the ever increasing cost of living, rising inflation, rising unemployment levels; hunger and social ills.
The Guyana Trade Union Congress had recommended that $25M be set aside for 70 villages to aid in job creation through poultry rearing, cash crops, cattle rearing, computer training, dressmaking and other economic activities. APNU+AFC had embraced the recommendations but the Government failed to take them up. Instead it has proposed the hosting of market days in a number of villages in Region 4.
Forde told the National Assembly that since returning to power in 2020, the PPP/C Administration has shown scant regard for the poor and working class.
Making his case, the Senior Counsel said according to the Bureau of Statistics, salaried workers, whether public or private sector, received G$94,810 monthly while self-employed workers received G$71,681. When the 7% increase offered to public servants in the latter part of 2021 was included, their salaries jumped to $101,446.70, however, Forde explained that after NIS and tax, the net effect was a 5% increase in disposable income.
He submitted that even with Government moving the income threshold to $75,000, it does not offer a significant increase of disposable income.
“This meant that salaried workers got an increase in real income of G$2,617. This translates into G$21.29 or six (6) US cents per day for each member of a family of four. The net change from the pre-budget income is G$10 or two (2) US cents per day. Again, the self-employed is left in a horrible position. Mr. Speaker, this is nothing more than a 2 US cents Budget,” Forde said.
He said when the APNU+AFC returns to Government it will remove the personal income tax altogether, as it made good on its commitment by reducing VAT from 16% to 14% when it took Office in 2015.
“The proper way to ensure that you can invest and take care of your family is to remove the Personal Income Tax. The proper way to control inflation is to remove the Personal Income Tax so that you could invest and produce more goods and services for this country,” he submitted.
In his deliberations, the APNU+AFC MP also spoke of the need to address the deficiencies in the National Insurance Scheme (NIS). Emphasis was also placed on the need to uphold the Rule of Law and democracy.
“… whilst the Regime has for propaganda purposes referred to this country as the Dubai of the Caribbean, it has publicly embraced Kazakhstan as the model of Governance. Moreover, Mr. Speaker, this Budget is designed to replicate Kazakhstan Model. Like in Kazakhstan, the Peoples Progressive Party/Civic’s governance and economic policies have seen accelerated inflation, poor access to public services, a small wealthy elite, income inequality and economic hardships,” he said.
Forde also lashed out at the Government over its refusal to meet with the Guyana Public Service Union, and the Guyana Teachers Union in accordance Labour Laws of the Guyana. He said the situation is further compounded by the absence of the Police, Public, Judicial and Teaching Service Commissions. Last Thursday, Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo indicated that the Service Commissions will be reconstituted by the end of February, 2022, however, Government has offered no clear indication when it will meet with the Unions.