The 2019 Budget Debates which have been interesting thus far will wrap up on December 07, 2018. The Administration, with the belief that it is saving the best for last, will put up its heavyweight speaker, First Vice President and Prime Minister, Mr Moses Nagamootoo up to bat. He will try as best as he can to offer a defence for what clearly is an indefensible budget.
Mr Nagamootoo in his own words will seek to charm the Guyanese people like the famed snake-charmers of India. He will tell our people that he and his Government are doing wonderful things for them; he will tell them better will come and he may very well tell us we will become the Emiratis of Latin America.
The Prime Minister, true to form, may also repeat to the sugar workers that he loves them though thousands have been put out of jobs; the rice farmers may hear how he cares for them, though he lost them their most lucrative market, and the farmers may hear how he has their well-being at heart, though his Administration has raised land rents and D&I charges.
Let us also expect tangential explanations about the hardships he imposed; and the launching of personal attacks on those he deems his opponents, as he reminisces about yesteryear, while ignoring the realities of today. Surely, he must eulogize his Budget innings in his Sunday Chronicle column and his DPI, true to form, will promote his remarks as the best thing ever.
But after all of that, the fact remains that the Prime Minister will not be able to convince many Guyanese people that he is sincere in what he said. Today, the Prime Minister’s naked political behaviour is there for all to see and evaluate. Today, he sits near to the apex of power, though he deeply wants to reach the pinnacle. He should ask himself why he’s the proverbial bridesmaid and never the bride.
Today, Mr Nagamootoo presides over a land and people that feel oppressed and unsure about the future. Today, he occupies a place in the most expensive Government in our country’s history.
Today, Mr Nagamootoo has betrayed all his ideals – his so-called Jaganite-principles – and his roar has become less than a whimper as he participates, advocates and approves willingly in measures that punish rather than reward the Guyanese people.
As Mr Nagamootoo will belt out another tune on the Parliament floor, I thought it wise to look at some of the other tunes he sung before in the hallowed chamber.
The Prime Minister will make a lot of hay about the size of the Budget – $300.7B – the biggest in our nation’s history. But while he will express pleasure about that fact, at the same time he will not say that tax revenues have also risen exponentially too.
It has been pointed out that between 2014 and 2019, tax revenues are expected to go up by $88B, a 64.5 per cent increase. But more than that, using 2014 as the base year, increases in tax revenues will see Treasury receiving just over $210B. That large sum has been removed, whether directly or indirectly, from the pockets of our people.
This, in itself, is a staggering sum, especially when one considers the short time that has gone by. Through my research, I found Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo, then as an Opposition MP, in his 2012 Budget debate contribution saying “…take the money that you have increased from VAT and give it to the pensioners, give it to the workers, and give it to the people who deserve social assistance. That is the proof of growth. It must be people centered”.
These are indeed good suggestions and I ask the Prime Minister what has happened now?
The Prime Minister in that speech too said “[i]t must be the duty of this National Assembly, not the Opposition but as a whole, to lower unjustified spending, to lower our national debt and to lower our fiscal deficit”.
Again, indeed insightful words from our ‘indomitable’ First Vice President. But with those words in mind, it is, therefore, lamentable that Ram and McRae, in its 2019 Budget Focus, pointed out that the Budget will record “…an overall deficit of $52.1 billion”.
It, therefore, means the Government will have to borrow, whether domestically or internationally, 17.3 per cent of the budgeted expenditure which will have to be paid back with interest, tomorrow and the days after that.
The PM in his 2013 Budget address regarding VAT championed an “…enlargement of the zero-rated basket”. But again the Prime Minister, it seemed forgot what he said, as his Government reduced the zero-rated basket and now Guyanese have to pay VAT on previously exempted and zero-rated items.
In fact, during his stint as Prime Minister, VAT revenues are estimated to go up from $37.3B in 2014 to $54.3B in 2019. This is a 46 percent increase. The Prime Minister in his 2012 address deemed VAT “…the vampire tax…”. Indeed with, Mr Nagamootoo, at the helm, the tax has become vampiric.
The Prime Minister in his 2014 Budget contribution expressed his anxiety about using “our foreign reserves to keep the exchange rate in check…”. But Ram and McRae informed “[g]ross external reserves of Bank of Guyana at the end of 2018 projected at US$477 million, a decrease from US$581.0 million in 2017, or 17.9%. This represents 2.5 months of import cover”.
It seems that the PM was prophetic, as it appears, that this is what his Government is doing. In fact, our reserves have sunk below the acceptable international threshold of 3 months import cover. This is a matter, I believe, that has not been getting the attention it rightly deserves.
So, those are just some of what the Prime Minister has said before. But as it goes to show, actions are indeed louder than words. Today, the hope the Prime Minister created prior to his election to his high office has been exposed as a mere smokescreen. The Guyanese people, clearly have been deceived.
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