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By GHK Lall
The 2023 national budget looks like a repeat of the 2022 one. Guyana’s version of lobbyists is busy delivering their laundry lists of expectations, making their case before receptive ears for lavish budgetary gifts. They will be, because the PPP Government will ensure that delectable budgetary generosity is finalized. In contrast, there are those without voice, without access, without representation, and who have no choice but to do without anything of substance or enduring power, having to take what they get.
The working, struggling, hurting poor of Guyana needs a bigger slice of Guyana’s budget, particularly in these oil rich times. The expectant should not hold their breath too long for they will choke in disappointment. Meanwhile, there is that now accepted practice of the private sector working full-time and overtime to squeeze more sweet extras for itself. It is not even the private sector per se, but the Private Sector Commission, which is almost an offshoot of the PPP. The PPP listens, and the private sector will be happy that its so-called recommendations (demands) were all met. That’s guaranteed, how their lobbying efforts will bear delicious fruit. These are the people with access, with clout, with results that have meaning, as in billions, in aggregate.
What will be in the bag of financial goodies for them this year? Certainly, a huge bundle of sweeteners has to be earmarked for the PSC for its donations, and gifts back in the 2020 elections season. I can read the banner headlines from now: more tax breaks, more concessions, more exemptions, more, more, more…. Among the PPP Government’s top priorities is to keep the PSC happy, regardless of the cost, or how much of a massive chunk comes out of the national budget. Frankly, the PSC has already received more than its share, and to give it more risks chronic constipation from overindulgence, from too much richness. Its prosperous members are well set, can stand on their own feet, and have it on easy street, thanks to the PPP Government. It does take care of its own, and in trumps. There is the added advantage for the PPP of being mainly its own people, its own opportunists and hustlers, and its own fallback option in a crunch. With the sure-to-be announced mysteries of continuing national development priorities, with a calculating eye on infrastructure, a greedier one on oil fund money, there will be a perpetuation of the spending binges of 2022, which means that the private sector comes in for more rich cream and cheesecake. We are talking tens of billions, and numerous projects set to take wing. Did somebody say side money, meaning corruption by the billions?
Contrastingly, there are those I call poor, dumb suckers. They are better known as believers and voters. They do not have a presence at the table of consideration (like the PSC); they are invisible; they can shout and cry all they want, but nobody is listening to them. The PPP is not even following the budgetary process of consulting with the Opposition, the private sector (not PSC), and interest groups, like unions. Why should the PPP give the poor a hearing, be concerned about their struggles, after all the monies spent on roads, bridges, wells and numerous facilities in various areas? What else do these people want? How greedy can they get, and considering they do not generate jobs, their share of taxes is negligible, and they have to be carried and subsidized?
Nobody in the PPP Government is making the same argument, or offering any pushback, when it is the PSC that is involved. Then, the cash just cascades, with only the asking. Billions upon billions are freed from the treasury so that the PSC can benefit still more. When it is poor Guyanese, they are pushed into a corner, told to be patient, and hope for better, but not happening now.
I don’t know how pensioners will deal with those platitudes, not when they are anticipating a monthly jump from $28,000 to $40,000; realistically I see it going to $35,000 and the PPP crowing that it is all of a big, fat 25% increase. The small people would like to see VAT halved, perhaps eliminated, but neither is going to happen. For that would leave the cheaters in the private sector nothing from which to carve out their criminal shares that they withhold from the GRA. A cost-of-living adjustment sounds like a dirty word, and it is doubtful whether that will be in the budget since the President will not hear that plea clearly, because of the noise from his travels and those jet engines clogging his ears.
The working class need more money directly into their pockets so that they have purchasing power and discretion to spend on the priorities most familiar to them, most needed by them. I think some income tax relief does that, but that has to be seen to be believed. Instead of plunking down $25,000 in a one-shot deal on Guyanese, it is better for them to have a minimum of $10,000 more (at least $5,000 net) per month in their paychecks to manage with dignity. The minimum wage could use a multiplier; I would recommend the increment or gradualism of 50%. The private sector is lobbying in person for its own self-enrichment; the best that the poor people of this petrostate have is for a few to make their case on paper, in the papers.
Guyanese circumstances are straight from the textbooks. GDP is fabulous, but now we grapple with the expanding wealth gap; it is not bloodless theory, but profane reality. Talk about skew: the rich getting richer, and the poorer falling apart, and Guyana is the billboard. So, this is what will be: budget cheers (PSC); budget fears and budget tears (poor Guyanese). In Guyanese terms, the budget is bile and fry. The PPP cronies (PSC) boil the budget to their tenderness and taste; while the working people are fried over a slow spit.