The People’s Progressive Party/Civic administration has been talking to itself for 20 years. It is now angry that the majority of the Members of the National Assembly have dared to talk back. It is astounded that members of the public have dared to disagree with its diktat
. It is astonished that the people of Guyana, through their elected representatives, have demanded fundamental changes to the National Budget.
The presentation of the $192.8 billion Budget to the National Assembly by Minister of Finance Dr. Ashni Kumar Singh on Friday 30th March should have been the opportunity for real dialogue between the Executive Branch and the Legislative Branch of Government. That opportunity was missed!
The People’s Progressive Party/Civic can no longer pretend that it speaks for the majority as it now constitutes a parliamentary minority in comparison to the combined strength of A Partnership for National Unity and the Alliance for Change parties. It can no longer claim that it alone has all the answers to the questions of national development.
It can no longer expect that its proposed Budget – which it prepared without the involvement of the majority – could be approved by the National Assembly without being amended. The Budget, if left unchanged, would have had catastrophic consequences for the entire nation for years to come.
A Budget is not a mysterious invention which only few are able to understand. It is simply a financial plan. It must project, as happens in any family or household, what it needs to earn and what it needs to spend. It must explain its priorities in ways which ordinary people can comprehend. The National Budget must have the interests of the ordinary citizen and the family at the centre of its provisions. Ordinary citizens are concerned, above all, about the cost-of-living. This cannot be ignored.
The Budget, if it is to be of any value, must be a tool to assure the people – ordinary farmers, nurses, students, teachers, managers, workers in the public and private sectors – that their livelihood will be safeguarded. It must convince the people that they have a stake in the future of this country. It must encourage people to have confidence in the country and it must provide the funds and resources to do so.
The PPP/C failed to understand this. It still does not realise that poverty is the greatest impediment to progress because it prevents thousands of people from participating meaningfully in the economy. The fact that over one-third of all Guyanese are classified as poor, or extremely poor, is nothing to boast about or to ignore. The Budget failed to reflect this concern and the PPP/C actually resisted measures to alleviate poverty and reduce the cost-of-living – such as lowering the Value-added Tax – as proposed by the APNU-AFC Opposition.
The PPP/C failed to understand the damage that has been done to the lives of young people who cannot find jobs largely because of the faulty education system. Primary and secondary schools discharge nearly one dropout every hour of every day of the year. The chronic problems at the national university prevent many gifted young persons from receiving the quality of education they desire or that the nation deserves.
Thousands of young people pour out of our schools every year, most with inappropriate education or insufficient skills to find fulfilling jobs. This is not just a waste of talent and a valuable resource but the source of resentment and the cause of delinquency. The Budget failed to reflect this concern and the PPP/C actually resisted measures – such as increasing the subvention to the University of Guyana – proposed by the APNU-AFC Opposition.
The PPP/C failed to understand that citizens feel threatened by violent crime. The state has a “responsibility to protect” its citizens and every person is entitled to live in safety, free from attack on his or her life and property. Human safety is an entitlement, not merely “an expectation.” This has to be reflected by positive budgetary measures.
The Budget failed to reflect this concern. The PPP/C made no provision to provide the Guyana Police Force or the Guyana Defence Force with sufficient maritime craft, aircraft and all-terrain vehicles to enable them to suppress the worst forms of narcotics-trafficking, gun-running and contraband smuggling which are responsible for pumping violence into the country.
The PPP/C failed to understand that citizens feel deprived and discriminated against by being denied their constitutional right to freedom of expression and freedom to communicate and to receive ideas and information. The APNU-AFC Opposition argued that Guyanese citizens must never again be prevented from listening to the radio of their choice or viewing television programmes of their choice. The Opposition made it clear that citizens are fed up with the pap purveyed by the Government Information Agency and the National Communications Network.
The Budget did not even try to encourage the people themselves – through measures to alleviate poverty, reduce the burdensome cost-of-living, increase jobs, improve education and enhance human safety – to support the plan. The Opposition decided, therefore, that it could not support the Budget in its proposed form and proposed certain reductions.
The APNU-AFC Opposition realised from the time of the presentation of the Budget that the PPP/C administration had made a big mistake. It was clear that the proposed Budget’s was badly out-of-touch with the reality of the actual needs of the people and the conditions in the country.The aim of the reductions in financial allocations, therefore, was never to obstruct the employment of state employees or to terminate programmes that concerned the education or well-being of citizens, either in the hinterland or on the coastland. It was always to make the PPP/C administration understand that it had no alternative but to take decisive action to bring executive lawlessness to an end.
The PPP/C had to accept that, in a parliamentary democracy, it had to respect the will of parliament. This meant behaving in a more accountable, efficient, transparent and financially prudent manner than it did since 1992. The APNU-AFC Opposition, in this regard, was always available to meet with the PPP/C side to recommend amendments.
This Budget is complex. It necessitated real consultation and collaboration especially after the events and eventualities of 28th November 2011. The administration did not act promptly on the proposal to establish a tripartite budget committee – made since December 2011. It was futile for the PPP/C to attempt to ignore the public will as expressed in the general and regional elections and as reflected in the present composition of the National Assembly.
The APNU-AFC Opposition had an obligation to help to avoid the threat of damage likely to be caused by a flawed budget. It did not seek special political favours from the administration but acted only in the public interest. It demanded to be consulted. It saw this Budget as the responsibility of the entire National Assembly – every member of the executive branch and every member of the legislative branch. Despite its reasonable demands, however, the PPPC administration adamantly refused to agree to concrete budgetary measures to:
- Reduce the Value-Added Tax rate.
- Reduce the Berbice River Bridge toll rate.
- Increase public servants’ salaries and increase in public servants’ retirement age.
- Increase the University of Guyana’s subvention.
- Restructure GUYSUCO and GPL to make them into viable corporations.
- Restructure GINA and NCN – the Government Information Agency and the National Communications Network – to make them into responsible national institutions.
- Restructure NICIL – the National Industrial & Commercial Investments Ltd. – to bring its financial assets into the Consolidated Fund.
- Restructure NIS – the National Insurance Scheme – to make it more viable.
- Restore the subvention to the Critchlow Labour College.
The negotiations with the PPP/C administration which took place during ‘Budget Month’ – April 2012 – were an exasperating experience. The PPP/C side refused to make significant changes.
The Opposition made it clear that the people did not see a Budget that offered new options for escaping from poverty. The people did not see new opportunities for pursuing higher education and new prospects for jobs. What they saw was a future in which they will be worse off, rather than better off, if Budget 2012 was allowed to remain unaltered.
Guyana expects that the PPP/C administration will grasp the opportunity provided by the reductions made to the Budget by the Opposition to better understand what the people want. It will never stop thinking about the social and economic problems which can hold back progress and can lead to social distress, political unrest and economic depression. The public will cannot be ignored.
The APNU-AFC Opposition acted correctly in making cuts to the budget. It is now up to the PPP/C administration to introduce the reasonable reforms have been demanded, to return to the negotiating table and to collaborate with the Opposition to introduce an agreed supplementary Budget which gives the Guyanese people the “good life” that they deserve.