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Shadow Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Mr. Roysdale Forde SC, said the 2023 Budget was overwhelming in the length and delivery, but underwhelming in substance. Speaking Monday after the Budget presentation of Dr. Ashni Singh, who has responsibility for Finance, the shadow minister told Village Voice, the “budget despite being 41.6 percent larger than last year is absent on meaningful measures to arrest the rapid decline and deterioration in the quality of life of the Guyanese people.”
The Budget is GY$781.89 Billion. But according to Forde, the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Government thinks it would be able to fool all Guyana into believing the Budget caters for them. “The 41.6 increase in spending is not designed to address the 48 per cent of Guyanese who live on less than $1200 per day; the 49 per cent of Guyanese who are poor; the public servants finding it increasingly difficult to have three square meals on their table, and keep a roof over their heads given that inflation has outstripped salary increase.”
Last year public servants received an eight (8) per cent increase in salary. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) reported in 2022 Guyana’s inflation rate was expected to rise to 9.4 per cent At the most basic Forde said, the “budget leaves the poor and vulnerable in a worse state as the pittance offered as increases cannot allow the majority to withstand the rate of inflation unleashed on Guyanese.” The economic impact is worse for pensioners and the young unemployed, he added.
The government has budgeted $3 Billion in salary adjustment for healthcare workers and members of the disciplined services. But Forde said the allocation is insufficient even for the identified categories and the public sector workers go beyond these workers.
Increasing the tax threshold by $12, 000 is negligible, Forde contended, particularly when compared to the President and ministers who continue to pay themselves increases along with the ordinary workers, but their income remains tax free. “This Budget is a poverty trap in the oil and gas economy and Guyana’s economy is expected to grow by 100 per cent this year when compared to 2022 and 2021.”
Calling for greater attention to ensure effective management of the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) and agricultural sector, the Member of Parliament (MP) said the sum allocated is not for the development of ordinary farmers, fisherfolk and sugar workers but an avenue for government to channel money to the ‘one Guyana’ beneficiaries, i.e. the nouveau riche and political elites.
Forde said, “Guyanese do not begrudge their fellow Guyanese prospering but Guyanese want to see fairness by Government and many do not feel they are getting their fair share” A belief he said is not without justification.
Pointing out education is a gateway to escape poverty, Forde said he noted whilst the government has allocated $3.7 Billion to the University of Guyana (UG), it has allocated $1.8 Billion to the GOAL programme, which represents half of UG’s sum.
According to the MP, the government is misdirecting money that should have been going to the university and local educational institutions like the Critchlow Labour College, the technical institutes and trade schools, recruiting local educators and paying them more. The sum allocated to UG sees another year of students being denied the constitutional right to free university education, he said. Article 27 of the Constitution of Guyana protects the right to free education from nursery to university.
A child grant and uniform grant could never be a substitution for quality education, Forde pronounced. “Guyanese know, like the World Bank, the standard of education is subpar to our Caribbean counterparts.” It’s the same for health, he asserted. The World Bank in its October 6, 2022 Report on Guyana stated in spite of increased spending in education “learning outcomes remain low across all levels” and “health outcomes remain below the average for Latin American and Caribbean and upper middle-income countries.”
Touching on infrastructural allocation, the shadow minister said the sum represents a significant portion of the budget, but this is done with deliberate intent. According to him, infrastructure presents avenues for corruption and Guyanese have not forgotten VICE News investigative reports that revealed the ugly underbelly of corruption and money laundering between Government officials and Chinese businesses to get lucrative contracts.
“People haven’t forgotten Mr. Su Zhirong, Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo’s tenant and friend, the wealth he amassed through association, what he told VICE News journalists, their meeting with Mr. Jagdeo at his house, and what Mr. Jagdeo told them.” Jagdeo was reportedly heard on the tape telling the journalists and Zhirong: “No, no, no I’m not getting involved in business. Su is my friend. He gets all the support. Su deals with all the agreements. I don’t. The thing is that my thing is that I’m in government, so I assist from government side.” Jagdeo has denied the allegations of corruption and has since sued Su for defamation.
The shadow minister also drew attention to the increase in corruption under the Ali government after the David Granger-Moses Nagamootoo government put in a lot of hard work to reduce the scourge. “Guyana’s image is once again being tarnished.” In 2021 Guyana dropped two points on the Transparency International Corruption Index which means corruption has risen.
Also, Forde said, President Ali has once again failed to make the Budget about all Guyana. “Mr. Ali has ignored the calls of United States Vice President Kamala Harris, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Ambassador Sarah Ann Lynch to be inclusive and ensure shared prosperity; he has ignored the inclusionary requirement outlined in the Constitution; and he has ignored the input from the political opposition and many stakeholders in society.”