Opposition decries massive spending without corruption safeguards
The Parliamentary Opposition yesterday charged that the 2012 national budget is one designed to prop up Government corporations plagued by inefficiency and mismanagement.
They added that the budget also provides for handing a select group of people contracts without safeguards on corruption.
Finance Minister Dr. Ashni Singh announced that the government will take $4 billion from the public purse to bail out the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) and save it from its bitter state. He also announced that Guyana Power and Light (GPL) would receive US$6 billion.
But while the bailout plan for the two state entities was put in the context of preserving jobs and keeping production going, in the case of GuySuCo, and keeping electricity charges down, the Opposition parties see it as but a bailout for failed management.
“It’s a bailout budget – bailout of their incompetence in running of these two corporations,” said Khemraj Ramjattan, lead Parliamentarian for the Alliance for Change (AFC).
Moses Nagamootoo, also of the AFC, said that the budget was carefully crafted for the government “to help their friends in GuySuCo and GPL and all those failed corporations that fleece taxpayers of their hard earned money.”
He said that the inefficiency and mismanagement of GuySuCo is being rewarded, as opposed to addressing the root causes of the problems facing the sugar industry.
He said that there was no talk about fixing the problems, such as sacking the entire board of the Corporation and bringing in technical assistance with the participation of the workers to look at the industry futuristically.
“This country cannot carry an inefficient corporation and we will have to find ways and means of addressing that,” said Nagamootoo.
The Opposition was also peeved that there continues to be massive spending on infrastructure projects, but little regard for controls.
“They are pushing so much money into infrastructural works, without the mechanism to ensure that the infrastructural works are going to be done of the quality and also with the necessary good governance of the finances,” Ramjattan stated.
He said that there was nothing mentioned in the budget about the creation of the Procurement Commission to ensure that the public finances are not siphoned off to handpicked contractors through a flawed tendering process, such as the bungled US$15.4 million contract which was handed to Florida puja shop owner, Makeshwar Fip Motilall, to build the road to Amaila Falls.
Carl Greenidge of A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) said that the gap between what the government is spending and how it helps or doesn’t help the public lies in the arena of “bad procurement and corruption.”
He said that the absence of the Procurement Commission means the continuous “giving (of) contracts and awarding contracts to cronies and associates and the failure to choose projects on how well they mesh with other things.”
Greenidge said that what is needed is a competent technical administrative system to manage, monitor and implement projects.
The Opposition parties slammed what they say was the absence of programmes to address the poor and vulnerable.
Mr. Nagamootoo said that it was an insult for the Minister to announce a $600 increase for Old Age Pensioners, an increase that he said cannot buy “three to four bottles of aerated drinks.”
“The quality in a budget is not the figures – the statistics; statistics can tell a story, but it can also tell a lie.
“Statistics are no comfort to them if they find tomorrow that their life is no better before the budget.”
Opposition Leader David Granger said that the budget is a disappointment. It pays no attention to the plight of the poor, he added.
“We do not see any development of the human potential and that is the only way this country is going to be transformed,” Mr. Granger said.
He said that the Minister called a lot of figures, but none of those figures contemplates “the removal of large numbers of people from poverty. “
“There is no way we can develop with a budget like this; this is continuity at its worse and I do not believe anything will change in Guyana.”
He said that the increase in the income tax threshold from $40,000 to $50, 000 will help a few people, but “it’s not going to significantly transform people’s lives.”
The AFC welcomes the increase in the tax threshold, but wanted to see a comprehensive review of the tax system, particularly a lowering of the 16 per cent Value Added Tax (VAT).
Ramjattan however stated that the increase in the threshold does not compare to the increased cost of living.
“Given that they have done nothing on VAT, and given the insignificance in relation to public assistance and old age pension, one would have expected something substantial in the area of emoluments for public servants and the threshold,” said Greenidge.
The APNU spokesman on finance said that it was shocking that there was no reference to programmes to target, in any substantive way, depressed communities and to the poor. He said this was lacking despite the Finance Minister’s argument that revenues are increasing.
“You have to give priority to projects that raise the level of the income, in the first place, and pay attention to the problems of the poor.
“The government’s responsibility is to put in place policies that will give those people hope and the skills to build their capacity,” said Greenidge.