Feb 15, 2016 News
By Kiana Wilburg
The Opposition’s arguments throughout the 2016 budget debates showed in several instances that members thought that it was perhaps a privilege to spew various misconceptions in the House regarding Government’s manifesto promises as well as what the budget 2016 had to offer.
Finance Minister, Winston Jordan expressed this view last Friday, prior to concluding the Government’s arguments on budget 2016 in the National Assembly
According to Jordan, listening to the opposition members throughout the debate, one got the impression that they either had not read his budget speech, or did not understand it.
The Finance Minister said that the House was treated to more of the same “jaded, tired, worn out mantras and messages: the budget is anti-poor; the budget has nothing in it; the budget has re-packaged programmes of the PPP/C…”
Jordan said that these messages are so familiar and “you would forgive me for suggesting that it may save us time and other cost, if we invite the Opposition to simply submit their statements so that they can be read into the Hansard.”
Jordan also said that that the majority of the presentations by Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo were somewhat disappointing but exactly what he expected it would be.
He said that Jagdeo’s obsession with repeating that the coalition Government inherited a “good economy” from the PPP is a farfetched statement.
Jordan noted that it was the PPP which actually inherited a “good economy” from the then PNC Government. He said that in 1991, Guyana’s economy grew by 6.1 percent and 7.9 percent in 1992, which was the same year the PPP came into power. He said that economy continued to grow until it stultified in 1995 at a time when Jagdeo was elevated to a senior position.
“If it was all rosey and glory as he is claiming then why are they over in the opposition benches? The masses are not stupid and they can see through the façade. You have the Local Government Elections coming up and maybe he is playing to that gathering.”
With regard to Jagdeo’s contention that Government inherited a US$780M reserve, Jordan said that the facts published in official documents tell quite a different story.
The Finance Minister noted that the figure to which Jagdeo referred was in 2013. He said that as of May 2015, the reserves stood at some US$600M.
“The Honorable Opposition Leader, continuing in the vein of his erstwhile comrades and fellow Honorable members, could not find anything good in this budget. It is all doom and gloom, conjuring up conspiracy theories and adapting fear and scaremongering tactics. The lesson and reality of May 11, 2015 have still not been grasped. Here, I am reminded of Pogo the ‘possum’s’ quote, in the Walt Kelly created classic newspaper comic strip: “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Indeed, we are our own worst enemy. We continue to bob and weave, attack and counter-attack; play to the gallery…”
Turning his attention to other matters, Jordan said that it seemed as though members of the Opposition have a problem with growing old or becoming elder citizens of the country.
“How else should one interpret their disparaging use of the word ‘geriatrics’, which literally means aged persons, when referring to Cabinet and other Members of Parliament of the Government? In the cycle of life, we are born, we grow up, we enjoy the brashness of youth, the warmth of middle age, and the swan song of our golden years,” expressed the Finance Minister.
“But, it would appear – from the contempt, derision and wide criticism of selected Honorable members of the Opposition – that being old is a disease to be scoffed at and scorned. In their eyes, this group of Guyanese citizens, who are protected equally under the Constitution of Guyana, must be cast away or cast aside. I say shame on all of you for your miasmic inferences. This Government consists of people who are not ashamed of their ages; not afraid of growing old…”
“We are a Government of grown-ups who bring unparalleled and unmatched experience, from a wide variety of fields and pursuits, which is being employed in the single-minded, driven task of bringing the good life to all Guyanese. Sense and sensibility seem distant in what was once a powerful political party, now frigid and fatigued, fraying at the edges but still exhibiting high degree of flatulence.”
The Finance Minster then touched on a matter which was raised by Opposition Chief Whip , Gail Teixeira during the budget 2016 debates. It was in relation to a matter of a religious quote being introduced into the budget speech for the first time.
Jordan said that in her presentation he detected a subliminal message that in his view was both dangerous and damaging to efforts at building social cohesion and unity in Guyana.
“Who could have imagined that because the simple, but apt, quote ‘let us rejoice and be glad’, could have attracted commentary because it was quoted from the Good Book. Is it now dangerous, politically incorrect, to source a quotation from a universal Christian Book, if, at the same time you do not reference similar quotations from other religious books? This level of reasoning belies rational thinking, even for a fractured society such as ours. But, it just goes to show the level of banality some Honorable members’ offerings in this House have descended.”
On the subject of misleading statements by members of the Opposition, the Parliamentarian argued that everyone is entitled to their own opinions, not their own facts.
During the debates, Jordan said that several honorable members of the Opposition have been guilty of trotting out unsubstantiated figures.
“Take, for example, Honorable member Anil Nandlall. He said that the Lotto Fund has $28B. He said therefore why the Government transferred only $1B and not the entire amount? But this was so patently false. The fact that it came from this Honorable member was reprehensible. This is the kind of falsity that will soon land another honorable member of this House before the Committee of Privileges,” expressed the Finance Minister.
A related area at issue, Jordan said, is the frequency in which Opposition MPs come up with stories of individuals who have been supposedly aggrieved for one reason or the other. He said that such stories may be good on the political hustings.
He then proposed to House Speaker, Dr. Barton Scotland that when it comes to the concerns or matters of citizens being used to buttress arguments or to advance a point, the authenticity of these anecdotes be substantiated by signed affidavits by the persons to whom the references are being made.
Jordan said, too that Budget 2016 has been a trending topic ever since its delivery on January 29, last, and judging by the reactions in the newspapers, radio, television and social media, he said that it has certainly stimulated the consciousness of the citizenry.
“The central preoccupation of all of us is the achievement of sustained growth and job creation. Through harsh and difficult times last year, we were able to steer the economy to a three percent growth. This was a magnificent achievement given all that we have experienced…”
The Finance Minister said that the 2016 budget is meant to stimulate higher and sustained growth in the economy. He said that this is exactly what Government intends to do by spending $230 billion on policies projects and programmes that will lead Guyana to the Good Life — one that all can expect to enjoy in a Green Economy.
“Our economy is being built so that it can withstand emerging challenges. Let us be clear on this. Our economy’s experience of indifferent growth has been so for a long time. Sure, this year would mark another consecutive year of real growth. And we should be proud of that achievement.”
“Except that the growth remains susceptible to the vagaries of international conditions and the challenges of the domestic environment. We need to remove the structural rigidities that impact on the productivity and competitiveness of the economy. But there is no overnight solution: establishing granite pillars on which our economy can stand strong requires a long term solution backed by comprehensive reforms that are resolutely implemented…”
The Finance Minister said that the 2016 budget has launched a phase where Government is seeking to diversify the economy, putting it on an unshakeable foundation; restore confidence; and, in so doing reduce poverty and accelerate the pace of development.
He said that Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth is expected to be at a minimum 4.4 percent, as state spending in especially infrastructure across the country, acts as a catalyst to the construction industry, while lower fuel and electricity prices stimulate the manufacturing sector and boost consumer spending.
With regard to fiscal consolidation, Jordan said, “This centres on the maintenance of a fiscal deficit and a debt profile that does not impair the capacity of the private sector to fulfill its role as the engine growth and the generator of employment in the economy. Already, at 4.7 percent of GDP, the projected fiscal balance for 2016 is below any recorded by past PPP/C administrations in the last five years.”
Jordan said that much of the rhetoric and theatrical activity of the opposition benches need to be called out for what it is. He said that the political gamesmanship and acrimony stem from some perceived right or misguided notion to govern at all cost.
He told the House that the notion must be rejected strenuously as a stumbling block to Guyana’s development.
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