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The budget for 2023 has been presented. There have been a lot of adjustments to cash payouts. Old age pensioners are to get an additional $5,000 per month. The income tax threshold has been adjusted so that people at the bottom scale will continue to be tax exempt.
People who get cash grants will be getting a bit more. They will get $35,000 up from the $25,000 they got last year. There are other incentives. For example, the government has opted to cut duties on cars below 1,500cc.
These sound very good until one recognizes that the increases are chasing the prices in the marketplace. Up to a few months ago the prices were about half of what they are today. The pay did not move upward so the general public had less to spend on basic stuff.
By the end of last year, the government gave most people an eight per cent increase. That pittance simply went toward providing some of the things the people thought that they needed for Christmas.
But the reality was that basic food items such as chicken, beef, pork and fish cost so much more to the extent that most of Guyana had to slash their purchases by half.
As could be expected, the budget is once more the largest ever produced. This has been the case every year for the past 20 or more years. But when one looks at it there isn’t much for the ordinary man. The low-income mortgage ceiling has been lifted to $20 million when most of the people who were gifted house lots cannot find the money to level the land.
The poor are still poor. Many years ago, Forbes Burnham had a solution to this problem. He did not have one-tenth of the money that is now floating around. The solution rested in self-help. People formed groups and worked on each other’s homes. When the project ended everyone had a home for which they paid a token mortgage. All across the country this allowed people who would only dream to own their homes to fulfill the dream. Talking to them about mortgage ceilings means that they have assets that a bank would accept. But this is not the case.
Another surprising thing is the failure of the government to announce pay increases for the various categories of workers. Traditionally, governments used this forum to adjust salary scales, tax brackets and other financial issues. When I realised that the teachers and other public servants were not considered, I became firm in my conviction that for all his talk about ‘One Guyana’ President Irfaan Ali has a morbid dislike for public servants and teachers. Education is still frowned upon.
And to think that parents are marching into school and assaulting teachers. And if that is not enough there are those who are trying to burn down every school in the city. Did someone know of the monster budget and wanted to create a pathway to a contract for the reconstruction of the Christ Church Secondary school?
The president also has an inborn dislike for the two women who head the judiciary. I am awaiting the legal outcome of the challenge to the President’s refusal to confirm the Chancellor and the Chief Justice.
High Court Judge, Justice Damone Younge, is expected to hand down a decision in the case brought by Mr. Vinceroy Jordan in March. Jordan had asked the High Court to direct President Irfaan Ali to uphold Article 127 of the Constitution of Guyana regarding the appointment of a Chancellor of the Judiciary and a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
The Court was told it has been more than two years since Ali’s presidency a letter (dated May 12, 2022) was dispatched to him by Norton, calling for advancing the process of appointing a Chancellor and Chief Justice. Norton had indicated his willingness to support the confirmation of acting Chancellor Yonette Cummings-Edwards and acting Chief Justice Roxane George-Wiltshire SC, but the President has not responded.
However, the prime focus is on Budget 2023. Money, and a lot of it, has been voted for infrastructure. From the look of things many of the infrastructure works are substandard. The Burma Road is breaking up some six months after construction; Thomas Road, is collapsing after millions of dollars was spent to repair it. Even Sheriff Street has a damaged stretch. That road was constructed only the other day.
The view is that the contractors are handpicked and given sums of money from which they have to pay a graft to one of the organisers of the contract. This means that the money allocated for the road constructions does not all go into the road.
Eight months ago, a member of the government family got a contract and $23 million. He never attempted the contract. All the Minister would say is that the contract has been withdrawn. What about the money? In the wake of the budget presentation, I heard that about 25 per cent of the money voted for road construction would go to fund corruption.
This budget is a huge one, some 40 per cent larger than last year’s monster budget. But for all its size, I can see that the ordinary man is getting little or nothing. The removal of VAT from electric vehicles; the slashing of duty on certain imported cars tells the story of the rich getting even more. The ordinary man is struggling to buy food. The old age pensioners have got the equivalent of a cylinder of cooking gas per month. The remainder of the pension would not be enough to pay for the cost of food.
The government, I am certain, wants to boast of money in the coffers at any cost. Its cup runneth over, but not the population.