Finance Minister goes back in time as debates end
- Corbin says Budget imposes burdens
Finance Minister Dr. Ashni Singh took a waltz back in time on Monday in vehement defence of the 2010 budget, quoting “Man No.1” and “Man No.2” from newspaper reports on the budget of 1989 as he wrapped up the Parliamentary debates.
He reminded the House of a time gone by when budgets were a headache for the people, and there was hoarding whenever there was budget time, with signs that read “No flour.”
Singh said he took the journey into history as a reminder “of the sordid place from which we have come because “only then will we value the place we now find ourselves in.”
It was his response to opposition arguments that the $142.8 billion he presented two Mondays ago provided no answers to the paupers of the country for a better life.
Singh challenged the opposition members of Parliament to remove their heads from the proverbial sand and acknowledge progress. He called on them to “join us and work together” to expand and accelerate development.
Opposition Leader Robert Corbin charged that the budget imposes a burden on the people and “provides no real light at the end of the tunnel of development”, saying that it turned out to be long on words and short on vision.
He claimed the government Parliamentarians had engaged in misinformation, misrepresentation, even slander and mischievous propaganda in their defence of the budget. However, he said the budget does not present any coherent plan to lift pauperised Guyanese out of poverty.
Corbin said that from the presentation of the government, mainly Minister Irfaan Ali, it would appear that Freedom House (the headquarters of the ruling PPP) was paying for the budget.
He added that those paying for the budget are the “Army of the poor” to whom the 16 percent Valued Added Tax is a millstone around their necks.
Corbin also charged that the repeated failure to address the taxable income threshold gives little meaning to the six percent increase in public servants’ wages.
The Opposition Leader charged that while the budget announced huge allocations in many sectors it fails to bring the large and increasing numbers out of poverty.
Even though Guyana ranks high on the World Corruption Index and despite the evidence of leakages in the public purse, there was hardly mention of plans to address corruption, except the acknowledgement by the Public Service minister that corruption does exist.
Corbin said the delay in the setting up of the Procurement Commission is evidence that the government has no interest in addressing the problem of corruption.
He called for the government to be genuine about its talk of cooperation and engagement of stakeholders in the development process.
Corbin also told the government that while they may be doing good in some areas, they can do better if they listen to the advice from the opposition side of the House.
As an example, he cited the fact that upon his return from a visit to Region One communities he wrote the telephone companies, GT&T and Digicel, about problems with telecommunication and he also raised matters of concern with the Health and Water ministers.
However, he said he received responses from the telephone companies but none from the ministers.
Meanwhile, the Finance Minister said the opposition was refusing to see obvious progress in the country, and while they have criticized the budget, they have offered no alternative programme for development.
He said throughout the debate, government was bombarded with insults, such as a “lame and pathetic interpretation of MBA” and the “shameless” accusation “that we know it all.”
Singh said what was on display was an opposition with a diametrically different view than the government’s. He argued that the opposition is stuck in the past and backward-looking, preferring to rely on distortion and misrepresentation to advance its cause for political expediency.
Taking on the opposition’s complaint of lack of transparency, Singh cited as an example that in the consultation process for the Low Carbon Development Strategy, the government established a multi-stakeholder committee.
In addition, he said the government had signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the private sector in the setting up of the National Competitiveness Council.
He said the government’s activities are characterized by complete accessibility, pointing to Cabinet outreaches and detailed sector strategies for all of the main sectors that include measurable targets.
Responding to criticism about lack of development, Minister Singh quoted the World Economic Report produced by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) which addresses real growth in emerging developing economies.
Between 1991 and 2000, he noted, Guyana was the fastest growing economy, while for 2009 the country was the second fastest growing economy, after Bolivia, among the 32 countries listed.
For 2010, he said the report projects Guyana will continue to be the second fastest growing economy.
Singh stated that a distinguishing hallmark of the PPP government has been prudence in execution of its activities.
“I urge the Opposition to remove their heads from the proverbial sand, to acknowledge the progress that is being made and visibly so; to desist from the practice of the politics of distortion and deception for which they seem to have a proclivity and instead to engage us in the future in meaningful and sincere debates on how we can deepen, widen and accelerate development in our country,” Singh declared.