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Guyanese are suffering under the heavy rising cost of living caused by this Government with their poor fiscal policies, tearing into the pots and pans of every person, across Guyana. The ordinary men and women who were expecting the Government to extend a hand up to escape the hardship have been rewarded with a heavy boot on their neck. This is how Budget 2023 will impact lives.
Considering the 2023 Budget, Guyanese cannot only think about numbers because those numbers by themselves are meaningless. It is important that we consider the philosophical rudder on which it was constructed. Here, I am not talking about the theme of the budget- “improving lives today, building prosperity for tomorrow”– because it is a set of nice sounding words. These words mean nothing to most Guyanese whose well-being and prosperity are equally important as the privileged ‘one Guyana.’
The Budget would not translate into benefits for the poor, working families and the powerless. This is demonstrated by the distributional policy of the government. One only has to look at the way, the COVID-19 cash grant, and other financial reliefs were distributed, and one would get the picture. Many are still holding their “Pink Slips.”
The award of contracts is another area in which government is increasing the gap between the rich and the poor. I challenge government to publish the names of companies that were awarded contracts and the sums involved, for the last two years.
The budget enhances poverty and put more of the wealth of the country in the hands of a few already rich elite individuals; it would deliver no tangible benefits to the ordinary working-class Guyanese. This should concern All Guyana because the Budget has fallen short of the inclusive motto, “One People, One Nation, One Destiny.”
Perhaps, the most striking thing about the Budget is its failure to address the decline in the quality of life in Guyana, which was pointed out in my contribution to the Budget Debate.
Billions were allocated on infrastructural, and other projects but not for our forgotten struggling working- class, single parents, youth, ordinary families, farmers, fisher folk, the elderly, and our brothers and sisters in the indigenous communities.
It is true the government has disconnected from the suffering of ordinary families, Within the last year Guyanese has seen increases in essential food items by almost 200%. Stabroek News (January 14, 2023) reported that from January- December 2022, pumpkin has increased by 185%; cabbage by 130%; eddo has increased by 150%; eggs by 82%; bora by 183%; and pak choy has increased by 166%. Still, the Budget has failed to address these.
Further, what the Honourable Minister of Finance, Dr. Ashni Singh, has failed to address in the Budget is Guyana’s score on the Human Capital Index. The score revealed that, while 97% of our children survive to age 5, the increasing levels of non-communicable diseases contribute to only 79 percent of our 18-year-olds surviving to 60 (with only three quarters of our 15-year-old boys reaching 60). These are disturbing statistics.
The health and longevity of our people are critical for the development of our nation, likewise the survival of both sexes to ensure procreation, family stability and growth.
More, 12% of our children under age five suffer from chronic malnutrition with rates twice as high in the interior of Guyana. Maternal mortality rate in Guyana is now 229 per 100,000 live births – one of the highest rates in the region. The health care professional to population ratio is 31 physicians and nurses per 10,000 of our population. Suicide rates continue to be high with Guyana having one of the highest in the Caribbean – 30.2 suicides per 100,000 persons.
It is imperative that, the Government increase, in real time, allocations to education and health and this adjustment must go towards improving the quality of delivery, including training and recruiting competent personnel.
Recent announcement by the PPP/C that it is against cash transfer because our nation cannot afford it has no basis in evidence other than the partisan desire to keep the poor, and vulnerable persons from benefiting from our oil wealth, therefore increasing the poverty gap.
If the PPP/C is desirous of the ordinary man and woman getting a hand up out of poverty, they would consider cash transfers, which must be paid not only to the poor and vulnerable based on needs, but to every household as recommended by Guyana and the region’s premier Labour Economist, Professor Clive Thomas.
Despite the rapidly worsening economic circumstances in Guyana since 2020, the increase in poverty and the abundance of oil resources, government has failed to expand and overhaul the social safety net. Government must at once provide unemployment grants, establish a social safety net that addresses the circumstances of children, young persons, elders and women in our society.
It is unbelievably true that still occurring in our beloved country Guyana is the persistent failure by the PPP/C to make wages and salaries livable and respect the constitutional right to collective bargaining for all unionised workers in the public sector or where the Government is a shareholder. I believe this Government must act now and move to the bargaining table with the trade unions to achieve increased wages and salaries and improved conditions of work reflective of an oil and gas economy.
The failure of the government to deliver on its election campaign promise of a 50% increase to all public servants, after more than two years in office is unacceptable. Unilaterally tossing less than 20 % increase in wages and salaries to public servants, in three years, is as discriminatory as it can get. In 2020 public servants received nothing; in 2021 they were tossed a 7 % taxable increase, and in 2022 an 8 % taxable increase.
Then there is structural discrimination. Some of the projects the government has been touting as national development are really political actions to undermine our aspirational goals for peace and social cohesion, to live in a land where all Guyanaese are of equal importance.
The PPP/C continues to ensure significant and transformative projects are landed only in their geo-political strongholds- a continuation of what obtained during previous terms in office- as other areas get little or must do without.
Guyanese are aware the hospitality training complex is identified for Port Mourant, the gas-to-shore at Wales, the Packaging Plant in Enmore, etc. There have been no similar economic transformational projects, as far as we know, slated anywhere near communities dominated by supporters of the Opposition. This is happening in President Ali’s ‘one Guyana’.
The government must know that a new awakening of the civic consciousness of this nation is already on the horizon; it will come.