A BUDGET OF UNFINISHED BUSINESS
The most strident criticism of the Donald Ramotar administration has been its failure to break free of the Jagdeo agenda. If there were hopes that Budget 2012 would finally signal a move by the administration to chart a new direction, those hopes were dashed last Friday in parliament. The 2012 Budget, presented by the Minister of Finance is primarily about the unfinished business of the Jagdeo regime.
The Budget is dominated by the roll-over spending for projects conceived and implemented under the ‘Champion of the Earth’. A striking feature is that there is nothing new or unexpected within the Budget.
It is all about the Jagdeo projects. Donald Ramotar has hardly made an imprint on this year’s Budget.
It is all about the unfinished Jagdeo agenda. Billions have been set aside to procure more laptops, to complete the Amaila Falls Access Road, proceed with the Hope Canal works and ensure that every secondary school in Guyana has a computer laboratory,
There has been little attempt to tweak some of these projects. For example, nothing was said about dumping the community service or training aspects of the One Laptop Per Family Project. Precious resources are being wasted on providing training for using the laptops.
All that was needed was for a small call centre to have been established so that persons with the complaints could have called into these centres and had any problems they were having with their laptops addressed.
Nor do our children need training on how to use these laptops. The monies that are pouring into commercial hubs could have been used to buy more computers. Instead of one laptop per family we could have had one laptop per child.
Disappointingly, the government has not indicated how it is going to ensure that it gets value for its money. Each year we keep hearing about the billions being spent on water. But there is no part of Guyana where water pressure is adequate or where water is available around the clock.
One would have expected that having had a healthy meeting with national stakeholders recently, the president would have established a civil society mechanism to monitor government spending and advise on how greater value can be had for monies that are spent.
There are good people within civil society who would love to play a role exercising civil oversight of projects to ensure value for money. Instead, money now has to be floating in public corporations. GuySuCo is in deep “shaving cream.”
The turnaround plan has turned around and bolted. No new plans were announced as to how this most critical industry will be secured. Instead, this company which once fed this nation through the extraction of an unconscionable sugar levy has to now be bailed out by taxpayers’, including sugar workers themselves.
This year’s Budget is about the private sector. The record spending that was announced is going to feed the private sector. The contractors in Guyana must be amongst the happiest persons after listening to the Finance Minister, because they know that this Budget means more and more contracts this year.
The private sector is very happy. They could not wish for a better Budget. The Budget confirmed that the rich class is now running Guyana and the PPP administration is now an instrument of this powerful capitalist class.
The capitalist class no longer has to worry about paying their workers more. Whenever they wish to appease their workers with an increase in wages, they just have to beat that drum about increasing the income tax threshold and the government is bound to dance to the rhythm.
The government ends up placing more money in the hands of the private sector workers through raising the income tax threshold, in effect subsidizing the pay of private sector workers.
The budget as usual means little to the average citizen, and not because it does not provide any handouts.
To the government’s credit it is subsidizing electricity already, but the tariffs are so high that many poor people cannot afford to pay their light bills. So why did the government, instead of giving the subsidy to be used for both rich and poor consumers, not simply ask the GPL to apply the subsidy to its customers who use a small amount of electricity, say less than 200 kilowatts per month?
To do this would however be to deny the large consumers, namely the rich and powerful, the benefit of the subsidy.
The Finance Minister kept speaking about investments and the amount of jobs these are going to create. We learnt about the thousands of jobs that have been created in Guyana through information technology.
Well if there is anyone who does not miss a beat when it comes to investment in Guyana it is the publisher of this newspaper, Glenn Lall. And it is therefore likely that he will be sending out his reporters to confirm all those thousands of jobs which were said to have been created through call centres have indeed been created.
But if the Budget presentation was true to form and disappointing in that it lacked imaginative measures, the public will be in for an even greater disappointment.
The opposition parties are going to have their say on the Budget soon and then the Guyanese people will witness for themselves the intellectual bankruptcy of that grouping that masquerades as the opposition in this country. They are not going to offer anything different other than the old suggestions about increasing pensions and reducing the VAT. They too are beating a tired drum and pursuing unfinished business.