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Many Guyanese are familiar with the saying empty vessels make the most noise, and while the Minister with responsibility for Finance, Dr. Ashni Singh, spoke for over six hours, this budget is as vacuous as his speech was long, said the Opposition.
Speaking at his press conference Thursday, Leader of the Opposition, Mr. Aubrey Norton, said Budget 2023 presented an opportunity for the government to change course, to show the world that it had the people of Guyana at heart [but] sadly, it has heaped disappointment after disappointment on the Guyanese people.
“Budget 2023 confirms that the government is clueless, incompetent, uncaring, and anti-poor. Budget 2023 confirms that the government has no national development plan. Budget 2023 confirms that the government is more interested in serving its business cronies than in lifting the quality of life of the Guyanese masses.”
Further, “Budget 2023 confirms that the PPP will not eliminate poverty, will not ensure that families can live comfortable and happy lives and will not build world-class social services in health, education, public utilities, public safety, justice, and a clean environment. Budget 2023 confirms that the PPP is incapable of using our vast oil wealth to transform the lives of the Guyanese people.”
The Guyanese people, Norton said, demand and deserve more than just pronouncements on large projects and expenditures. “They demand and deserve concrete and adequate measures that directly lift our living standards in the short, medium, and long term.”
Where are those measures to address runaway cost of living, he queried. Making the case that “no longer can the people accept a paltry $5 billion towards cost-of-living mitigation – a number which has remained the same as last year, despite this year’s budget being 41% larger than the budget of 2022 and the Natural Resource Fund (NRF) has over US$1 billion. People are offered the same $5 billion”
Going further to question measures the government has put in place to ensure social protection and assistance for those in need, the Opposition Leader said “old age pension, public assistance, and ‘Because we care’ cash grant increases are shameful at a time when our country’s oil industry is booming.”
Making known the poverty Guyanese endure today is not artificial, it is real, Norton stated this is “a product of a government that refuses to even contemplate the harsh realities we see every day. Social support for families could easily be doubled this year. The PPP, however, is only content to offer a heartless pittance. This is even while the real wages and salaries of the people continue to decline.”
Touching on Education, he pointed out that in September of 2022, President Ali told the United Nations that education spending would be increased to 20% of the national budget. Last year only 13% of the budget went to the Ministry of Education, and this year only 12% will be spent on education.”
The comparative statistics, Norton said, represent a failure of the President to “honour his words and rather than increasing the share of the budget spent on education, the PPP has been shrinking it. One would have thought that since human resource development is critical to national development then more resources would have been allocated to education.”
“Where are the salary increases for public servants and teachers? Where is the decision to make the University of Guyana free? Where are the plans to ensure all our schools across all communities and regions have the human, financial, and other resources to deliver quality education to our students? There are none!” Norton stated.
Turning attention to small business, communities and the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo), Norton stated there was no measures in the Budget to expand small businesses, to transform communities, to transition to value-added production, to re-imagine GuySuCo and agriculture, to create employment, and to generally give hope to the people. Budget 2023 flops in all these regards, he said.
“The government continues to speak not in terms of outcomes and direct benefits on the livelihoods of people, but in terms of dollars to be spent. This practice is deliberately deceptive and must change, starting with a commitment to eradicate poverty in the shortest possible time.
“Similarly, Budget 2023 fails to speak in terms of quality-of-life indicators, such as life expectancy, literacy and numeracy levels, infant and maternal mortality rates, doctors-to-patients ratios, teachers-to-students ratios, crime rates, and access to adequate food and nutrition–with the goal of lifting Guyana far beyond its historic underperformance. The Budget is mere platitudes with no specific targets to be achieved in terms of improving the quality of life of our people.”
According to Norton, “the people of Guyana awaited 2023’s Budget with a great deal of anxiety. They saw the government ignore them throughout 2022. They saw the PPP pretend that the nation was impoverished while huge windfall revenues abounded from the high oil price. Now that the 2023 Budget has been revealed it has only led to despondency.”
The Opposition noted that this year Guyana’s GDP per capita will surpass Trinidad and Tobago, will see yet another FPSO push Guyana’s oil production to nearly 600,000 barrels of oil per day, and will see the Natural Resource Fund reach US$2 Billion, but “under this government, Guyana is experiencing what economists refer to as the ‘PARADOX OF PLENTY’ where countries with abundant natural resources have poor economic outcomes and living standards.”
Guyana can be one of the best places in the world to live, Norton contended, but it requires the Opposition’s people-centered vision, which can deliver on this promise swiftly, and which stands in stark contrast to the PPP’s focus on cronies. “For Guyana to truly grow, clearly, the PPP must go”, he concluded.