REVIEW OF THE BUDGET- SOME PRELIMINARY OBSERVATIONS
The largest Budget in the history of Guyana has been presented. It will eventually be passed after undergoing the usual interrogations.
The opposition parties now have the enviable task of dissecting the 2010 Budget by offering criticisms and suggesting alternatives. The opposition members of parliament will now be put to the test. The public will be looking at how good these members will be at criticizing the Budget by exposing its shortcomings.
The government benches, on the other hand, will have to defend the record of the government over the past year as well as explain and justify the proposed expenditures that are being budgeted.
In so doing, they will have to show the Guyanese people just how the billions of dollars that are supposed to be spent will improve the standard of living of the average citizen.
While the Budget is, as yesterday’s editorial in this newspaper pointed out, essentially a financial document, the speech itself has provided some idea as to the direction in which the government proposes to move the country and who will be the primary beneficiaries of the billions that will be spent this year.
Just a few days ago, a report was made public about the high migration of our nurses. It was said that wages and salaries were not the only contributing factors to this outflow. But I am sure that it must have been a major factor since nurses can earn far more by going overseas than they can here in Guyana.
It is hoped that when the time comes for the Minister of Health to address the National Assembly, he will outline specific measures that will be implemented this year to help retain nurses. For it is no use spending billions of dollars on the health sector, yet being unable to retain the support staff to help the doctors in their work.
Guyana may never be able to match the wages and salaries that are paid to nurses overseas. But we have a quality of life in Guyana that many foreigners are beginning to envy and thus there is no reason why if nurses see that they can live a comfortable life in Guyana, why they would not prefer to stay rather than go overseas to work, despite not earning as much as their foreign counterparts.
Each year, millions of dollars are spent in training nurses, many of whom eventually gravitate to greener pastures. The question is how are we going to retain these nurses at home given the strong pull factors amongst which is the fact that many Guyanese have relatives overseas.
The Minister of Health must answer these concerns in his presentation. He must also answer the question as to why doctors who are attached to public hospitals being allowed to moonlight at private hospitals.
Now this may be a facility to allow them to supplement their meager incomes, but while this may not present a problem for the doctors at the lower levels, it is inconceivable that at the supervisory levels this practice should be allowed.
The bull has to be taken by the horns at some time and a decision has to be made about this practice of doctors attached to public hospitals working also at other hospitals. It presents a ticklish problem which the Minister should try to deal with as he defends his budgetary allocation.
The spotlight is also expected, during this debate, to be on the proceeds that the government hopes to earn from privatization. But greater interest is expected to be in the entities that will facilitate these privatization proceeds and the arrangements that are to be put in place to deal with these problems.
In the productive sector, great hopes are being pinned on sugar and specifically on the Skeldon Sugar Estate. There were, it must be recalled, teething problems with this factory which cost the corporation millions of dollars. Hopefully when his turn comes to make his presentation, the Minister of Agriculture will enlighten the nation as to what was the overall net cost to the corporation as a result of these problems and just how tons of cane was lost as a result.
There was a staggering statement made a few weeks ago by a staff member of the Ministry of Agriculture. In replying to the criticism that the production numbers in the non-traditional agricultural sector pointed to a decline over the past few years, the staff member pointed out that there are problems with the data on the sector and sought to use exports as a basis of showing that in fact output in other crops was increasing.
There is now a serious urgency for this statement about the incompleteness of the agricultural data to be clarified because given its importance in overall national production, there is a need for greater completeness in the data so that instead of using exports as the basis for making a case for increased output, we can go directly to the production figures and make the necessary comparisons.
After all considering the billions that are being spent in that sector, one would expect at least that results would be more visible and verifiable.
(To be continued)