Latest update March 24th, 2023 12:59 AM
Dec 04, 2016 News
By Leonard Gildarie
Wow! What a week. From the national budget to Prince Harry’s visit, accidents and robberies,
and a mayor being voted out in Berbice months after taking office, it all indeed seemed a bit overwhelming.
I will start with the one that appears to be on everyone’s lips – the presentation of the 2017 national budget, that came with the salary threshold being raised and a number of fees and taxes being hiked.
There are announcements of tough measures against tax evaders and against businesses that keep poor records or double records to fool the inspectors. I have no issues with these measures.
Of course, the one that rubbed wrong is that announcement of a 14 percent VAT introduction to the water and electricity bills of consumers.
According to Government, the vast majority of customers for Guyana Power and Light Inc. will be excluded from paying those VAT charges. According to GPL figures, it has approximately 138,000 residential and business customers. About 105,000 residential and 4,800 business customers pay $10,000 or less per month. This means that over 80 percent of consumers will not have to pay the tax.
My research on what prevails overseas has found taxes being applied to electricity and water bills in quite a number of countries. The big question is whether Guyana is ready for this. We have had a tough year, made worse by global conditions and falling prices for commodities like timber, bauxite and rice.
Undoubtedly, it will have some effect on disposable income of consumers – meaning that it will affect spending power.
Taxes are very critical to the running of a country. They are what fix the roads, pay for education and free medical services and a host of other things.
However, too much taxation can have a crippling effect on the economy.
The timing of this new tax must be considered in the greater scheme of things.
It is a fact that this administration has made it harder upon itself when it comes to accountability.
A number of big bank accounts, including at NICIL and Lotto Funds; the ones at the Guyana Forestry Commission (GFC) and the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) can no longer be used as slush funds. There is too much scrutiny. Spending has to be approved by the National Assembly.
The Government can no longer try to move monies from GGMC to fix problems in housing. That is irregular.
In other words, quick fixes to crises that pop up at intervals have be tackled in a more responsible, long-term and legal manner.
It appears to me that this administration recognized that the economy was in deep trouble from as early as two years ago. The growth was sliding. There were no major investments. Money to run the country has to come from somewhere.
Sectors like housing and forestry were all grinding to a halt. This was what the administration met with when it entered office. The loss of the rice market to Venezuela was by no means a little ripple in the water. Rice is life for a vast majority of citizens from Berbice and Essequibo, with overseas markets tough to negotiate and lock down.
The clamping down on the drug and fuel smuggling trade have also badly affected the economy. We can discuss this more, but there is not enough space here.
Trinidad, Suriname, Brazil and Venezuela are facing some of the toughest times in their history.
In Guyana, we have to take stock. A number of businesses are threatening to pass on their “extra costs” from taxes to consumers.
The fact is quite a number of large companies are hiding their taxes. Many businesses are not issuing receipts. Many businesses have been under-reporting. The budget is promising heavy fines for both local and foreign companies if caught fixing their books to avoid paying their fair share of taxes.
So there is significant unease over the actions of Government. I am worried.
Leading up to the budget presentation Monday, Kaieteur News has been updating this nation on the consultations that took place over the year. Stakeholders from the business sector were engaged. I recall hearing invitations to the Opposition.
Did the administration relay to the stakeholders what was some of the thinking?
If the Opposition did not turn up to the meetings, where should blame be laid? The Opposition represents almost half of the voters.
In my estimation, we have a broken system. The budget debate begins tomorrow. The National Assembly is where we should show some maturity. There is nothing that says that Government and Opposition cannot compromise on a number of things. There can be some backroom negotiations. After all, we are talking about the well-being of the entire country.
We are at a crossroads. Should we take the tough decisions that have to be taken and ready this country for oil? Or should we continue along the same lines that have left us with a shameful title – one of the poorest countries in the hemisphere.
Instead of nit-picking, at this 11th hour, we have to sit at the table and work things out. I am sure the Opposition can call the Finance Minister and talk with him. I am sure he will listen. After all, he and the administration represent all of Guyana.
So we will watch and see how this debate unfolds. I expect it to be anything but boring.
As I pen this piece, there is news of a horrific accident involving three vehicles, including a minibus, at Herstelling, East Bank Demerara.
I am a little worried about this piece of the four-lane roadway. The median has been widened to allow cars coming from the city to turn right into Herstelling. But the median appears to throw drivers off, with a number of accidents reported in the area.
Our taxi and minibus drivers appear to be on a suicide mission. They switch lanes at the blink of an eye. We don’t care for pedestrian crossings. A little boy in Berbice lost his life this week.
At Eccles, a woman was crushed by a truck at the Haags Bosch dumpsite road on Friday. On the East Coast, a former regional executive officer was killed after a collision, reportedly by irresponsible driving.
I am nervous every day as I head to and return home from work. We need to examine how these drivers are receiving their licences.
Aside from this, I read with much interest the news that the Mayor of Corriverton has lost his seat. This is because of internal elections at the municipality there. He was only voted in earlier this year.
All the local government offices – municipalities and Neighbourhood Democratic Councils – are expected to hold internal elections by mid-December. It is a good thing. No mayor or chairperson should think the office belongs to them.
All eyes will be on the city when Mayor Patricia Chase-Green comes up against her deputy, Sherod Duncan. I believe that this is democracy at work.
In office, we should all strive to leave a mark, a legacy. It is not about the money or contracts or fancy speeches. It is all about service.
An expectant population is watching. The rules of the game have been relaxed and a younger crowd is roaring, and expecting.
Lies, Lies, Lies!!!
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