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Leader of the Alliance for Change and Member of Parliament (M.P) Khemraj Ramjattan told the National Assembly the 2023 Budget is devoid of planning, targeting, has no output and has all the hallmarks of ensuring a disproportionate distribution of our oil and gas funding.
Making his case, last Tuesday, during the Budget Debate Ramjattan said there is a new paradigm in Guyana, in relation to revenue streams, and that revenue streams today include the monies from that oil and gas contract which the A Partnership of National Unity and Alliance for Change Government signed on to in 2016, and also from the credit carbons as a result of our forest being in pristine state.
“Carbon credits is what you call the monies from that project, and Guyana, as a result of especially that Petroleum Agreement is today, per capita, one can say probably the richest country in the Americas.”
He added, “It is very important too that we understand the multiplier effect of that project, namely all the businesses, all the other operators, and so many other impacts, as it were, from that one sector, that today now brings in so much money. And that is why, Mr Speaker, when I heard some on the government benches…talking and trying to do comparisons with what we did as a coalition government, I want to indicate that, that is rather unfair, if not dubious.
“…the fact [is]that the revenue streams today is far superior from anything we ever had and that is why, although it was called a rocky agreement, and in the recent newspaper I see the ‘s’ word being used by a former vice president by the existing vice president we feel that we must not compare the two.”
He continued by saying, “Mr. Ganesh and Mr. Chris Jones, Honourable Members on this side, explained what and what we did especially in sports and culture and in local government to show that with the little that we had then, what we did and so this kind of analysis, whereby the PPP would want to say that we ain’t do nothing, it must be understood. We have to now make sure that the comparisons are comparable as it were, Mr Speaker.”
Compare now what government is doing with the new revenue streams
“We must not compare this context with what happened before. What we must insist on, is a comparison as to what is being done now with that large revenue stream by the PPP as against what ought to be done. And that is why in this budget just before it we had indicated that we would like to have some halves in relation to what this budget must State. And my good friend Mr Joe Hamilton was giving the impression that we do not propose anything. Well, I want to say that we did propose a number of things in a release called ‘Budget 2023 must-haves,” he added.
Ramjattan told the House “…we indicated that we wanted an increase in the minimum wage of a $150,000 dollars with corresponding adjustments to personal income tax, we proposed an increase in old age pension to $50,000 dollars, we proposed an increase in disability benefits to $40,000 dollars, we proposed a reduction of vat to 12%, and we also proposed that new shelters around the administrative regions for women being abused as these shelters would support the victims of domestic violence, along with the two others that was mentioned by Joe,” he argued.
Making known the understanding that in every budget cycle there is going to be more spending, the M.P said it is not good enough for the government to say that “we have done this and exclude [the opposition] from what ought to be done at the context of a Guyana in which as the culture news mentioned 43% of Guyanese can’t afford a healthy diet. 5% nourished and this is an FAO report.”
Pointing out that in the determination of spending the Opposition was excluded from the Budget planning, he stated “you can argue whatever you want but the whole point of it is that it is not intellectual dishonesty.”
In passionate defence of his position, turned to the Government side of the House and stated, “Look at them! We are saying that it is important to understand, Mr Speaker. This is why you know the give and take in a normal democracy is absent with that kind of attitude when you are going to quote the report and lean over. For us, the cost of living…everything has gone up, everything!! I am not being intellectually dishonest, here this is good news. The Stabroek News in an editorial indicated.”
Keeping his attention to the Government’s side, the M.P told Minister with responsibility for Finance, Dr. Ashni Singh he shouldn’t “get so fired up [because] I am saying that in today’s context we are having a hard time and that hard time is as a result of the tremendously high cost of living, and in that reality we must ensure that we do the comparatives as to what we could do now with the oil and gas and credit carbons revenue stream as against what we are doing.”
He noted, “There is every righteousness about that, you have to at least have the attitude of indicating that we must not go there. Well, I am going to go there Mr Speaker, it is very important then that we do an analysis as to why it is not being done.”
The analysis is simple, this is, a working class supposed government, and it forgot about all of that a good time now, and it is going on and on in relation to what is called certain schemes, very clever in which a certain set of people in Guyana are going to be the beneficiaries, he stated in his presentation.
I want to indicate, Mr Speaker, when you have the construction industry having so much money poured into it, the rule of thumb is a certain set of contractors who are friends and family will always be the beneficiaries.”
One of the epicentres of corruption
I am telling you, he continued, that the construction industry is one of the epicentres of corruption.
“I will lay over the report, a Transparency International 2005 which indicated that. It is happening with oil resource countries. Mr Speaker, it has all the ingredients conducive for corruption. There are so many uncertainties in the execution that it is possible to draw what is impossible. To draw what so many economists refer to as the ‘complete contract’ you can’t get a complete contract.
“Let’s say for that Harbour Bridge as to what and what it will be, at the cost you cannot have for some of the roads in Guyana. You cannot have a complete contract as to what it will cost and that is why so many roads are being built and the next day, literally, they’re breaking apart.
“You know that’s where the corruption is, especially in that construction industry. It creates what is called an undermining of the political process and it enables patronage to triumph over honest politics Mr Speaker,” he argued.
The M.P highlighted, “we know very well what we have as infrastructural spendings in Guyana- a little bit of that could have been nudged away, and at least be given to the working people, so that the working people can have a better day than not having to literally get malnourished, Mr Speaker.”
I am happy that I have gotten up the bile of the Minister of Finance, it means that I am making a good point, continued Ramjattan, that the evidence is all there and we’re gonna come to it.
“What is happening now at the EPA, all of those institutions are also today as a result being supported because of what we have under the corruption and the patronage that is happening in Guyana. These transformational projects as they called them, as Comrade Seraj yesterday talked about, ….but he also made some dubious comments. This is what is being said by him, ‘that PPP is not thinking about votes.’
“That is why we are having big transformational products and projects. Listen to me, Mr. Speaker, people over there, that PPP leadership, always think about. That and nothing else; it’s a well-oiled political machine. Whenever it makes any decision, it thinks about the votes, and I know about that. That is the leadership, Mr. Speaker, it is a reason why and it is the reason why they seek to dodge today.
Elections without good governance
“Mr. Speaker, a strong EPA and also a strong EITI in this resource-rich country today is having what is called ‘elections without good governance.’ They prefer elections only as if elections are without democracy. Election is not democracy, Mr Speaker. Election is one component and they’re now and they had an inheritance, the largest. That is the greatest ever and that is why I said your inheritance that you have devised.
“The inheritance that you have been devised is that which is so humongous, but you got to know better Mr Ashni Singh, Honourable Member, as to how you’re going to spend that money don’t ever say that these projects may be transformational.
“I remember when they said that the Skeldon Sugar Factory will be transformational, where is the Skeldon Sugar Factory today? Fibre optic cable, Fip Motilall’s Road. …you must understand that it is not because you deem it transformational means it was transformational. However, it was when we signed that agreement that it could make you $200 billion today to spend in this budget which was transformational.”
It was the right thing to do, right sizing of the sugar industry so that you don’t pour good money behind bad sectors and billions and billions of dollars, he pointed out.
Not a budget that I can support
Ramjattan told this House he cannot support the 2023 Budget “There is no planning, there is no targeting, there is no output, and the budget is pathetically poor. A PPP ethically poor policy.”
He continued, “yes, they love to say that it is the biggest budget. But I want to say as Mr Christopher Ram has indicated in his analysis, it is also with the biggest deficit. Mr Speaker, we have taken some severe body blows recently. Some severe body blows, I mean you have Mr. Kwame McKoy; he was very slippery yesterday…”
One of the important aspects of governance Ramjattan told the House was also ensuring that scrutiny and transparency in the security sector, pursuant to Article 119 D of the Constitution of Guyana.
He pointed out the absence of a Parliamentary Oversight Committee on the Security Sector since the start of the 12th Parliament and that no meetings were held by the Committee. That was compared to the period of the coalition government when he was Minister of Public Security such committees were established.
“Mr Speaker, with all of these that I have just spoken about the Preamble remarks on sugar and race and all of that it is important to understand, I cannot support this budget. You really cannot. It has all the hallmarks of ensuring a disproportionate distribution of our oil and gas funding. We are now waging a serious psychological battle as to the resentments that will be coming. We are in an explosive situation!” he said at the conclusion of his debate.