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If the earmarks in the 2023 national budget are examples of PPP style caring and lending a helpful hand in a time of struggle and need, then spare the Guyanese people, primarily the bottom feeders, the embarrassment, and what amounts to calculated insults. In a record shattering budget of $781.89 billion, the best that the analysts, economists, and therapists could come up with is the thinnest sliver possible for the poor, weak, and vulnerable in Guyana’s population. If what has been presented in parliament is not the work of budgetary terrorists, then nothing else could fit that callous category.
As I see matters emerging from the 2023 budget, what the PPP brain trust finalized is the equivalent of ‘here is a little something, not keep mouth shut, and be contented. I mean $2,000 more a month for public assistance and $5,000 additional for Old Age Pensioners have to be the pits, the very bottom of them. It is obvious from all the media reports, and the cries of working poor, that the pain and pressure is on, in unrelenting fashion, from punishing prices that just keep racing away. I agree that billions for the children as an education subsidy is helpful, and packs a decent punch. So, too, are the increased tax thresholds, the $3 billion for those in the healthcare sector and the Disciplined Services. But to allocate 1.7% of this immense budget for relief in the hand and pocket for those who cannot afford to access essentials amounts to nothing but a crime of significant magnitude. Less than 2% in an oil rich country that is the talk of the world, somebody has to be kidding!
Even when that sorcery of $5 billion for “cost-of-living measures” is factored into the total of what Guyanese actually collect for themselves, meaning, get in their hands, to fight their losing battle in a price environment, where basic food prices, keep distancing from the, then all that we are talking of is 2.3% of the budget in some cash form. By my addition, education grants plus taxes plus pension plus public assistance plus Disciplined Service and healthcare workers total $13.476 billion. When that $5 billion is added, it amounts to a miserly $18.476 billion out of a national budget of $781.89 billion. This is not just a cheapskate and skinflint PPP Government, it is also one that has shown itself quite capable of delivering the heinous and the brutalizing.
One would think that somewhere in the vicinity of $40 billion from the budget of almost $782 billion, or approximately 5%, would represent some level of consideration and care; it would be slightly more than double what is in the budget for Guyanese workers and their families. Though still on the light side, it would manifest some deep thought on the plight of Guyanese forced to do without, and action that reflected some degree of interest, commitment, and concern.
I understand that there are other provisions in the 2023 budget, of which fuel subsidy is one, ease ever so slightly, the trials and woes of the man in the street working furiously to make ends meet. But people need more palpable spending power in their hands to give them a sense of self-respect, and the belief that they are in charge of their destiny. I think it is a positive when Guyanese feel that they are, indeed, living in a rich oil economy, and some of its fruits trickle down to them. With $208.9 billion slated to be withdrawn from the nation’s Oil Fund, regular citizens had to come to the conclusion that were sharing in that, however tiny the piece.
Since only this minute percentage of budget dollars are going to be the lot of Guyanese, then it stands to reason that hundreds of billions are making their way, for the PPP’s Golden Child, viz., the private sector. In some form or the other, this means infrastructure expansions and improvements, and under which endless corruptions become the order of the day, for which the PPP Government has earned a deserving and notorious reputation. The bottom line is that Guyanese cannot eat infrastructure (roads and bridges), and as good as that may be, when Guyanese get value for their tax dollars sunk into public works projects, they still have to exist in a world where they have to do without much. Life becomes an obstacle course, with daily survival a game of touch and go.
As a quick aside, this budget is so horrendous that a PPP loyalist from the West Demerara surprised me by admitting readily that the money provisions for the strapped and needy in the budget are an abomination. As an example, he was thinking along the lines of $60,000 monthly for pensioners, which I conveyed to him was impractical, and was never going to happen. One of the things shared was how on Saturdays at the markets, when he observes the elderly checking prices, and then walking away, which prompts him to push his hand in his pocket and extend some help. This is how tough things are in an oil rich country, where a hardhearted government turns its backs on the people, and they are left to fend for themselves, however they can. On another note, with the PPP Government pouring so many budget billions into infrastructure projects, construction inflation is already evident from too much demand. This begs the question of how those with house lots will stretch their mortgage money to get a complete home.
What good is this oil wealth? When will poor Guyanese see some of its rich benefits coming their way? And when will the PPP Government show that it is about those who are falling behind, and do something meaningful for them? This is a fantasy land of great wealth and greater poverty. The rich are in a race to the moon, thanks to PPP largesse. On the other hand, the poor of Guyana are buried alive, and by their own government.