Feb 13, 2022 News
Use oil money to fight poverty…
Kaieteur News – Years after promising citizens that Guyana’s new found oil wealth will be spent on bettering their lives, the government’s first move on the oil resources will be to fund a controversial gas-to-shore project and other schemes mired in controversy. Kaieteur News Publisher, Glenn Lall, who has been pushing for responsible management of the petroleum sector and spending of the oil resources said that of the US$630M (GYD$126B) the government will be withdrawing from the Guyana Natural Resources Fund, US$60M alone could be used to double public servants’ salary and the monthly old age pension which is pegged at $28,000.
In wrapping up the examination of the $552.9B budget last week, Finance Minister, Dr. Ashni Singh told the National Assembly that $126B coming from the Natural Resources Fund (NRF) will be pooled with other revenue streams in the Consolidated Fund, to pay for government’s programmes for the year—all of which are considered, “national developmental priorities,” and as such, could not be disaggregated and identified as financing a specific project.
It would be apposite to note that despite the fact that some $126B of this year’s Budget is being funded with monies to be withdrawn from the NRF for the first time, there was no mention—despite promises made—of which programmes specifically in this year’s budget would be funded using Guyana’s oil resources. In fact, he intimated that the money is in fact being used as budgetary support. Dr. Singh when first pressed on the matter was reminded that “…we were being told that we have to ask the Minister of Finance, which are the projects that would be utilising the NRF amounts.” To this end, Dr. Singh was adamant that the new Natural Resource Act that had been approved provides a mechanism that the money be withdrawn and placed as a lump sum into the Consolidated Fund. He explained further that the new Act established a mechanism whereby transfers come into the Fund in its entirety then appropriated.
However, speaking on his weekly Radio Programme, the Glenn Lall Show on Friday, the Kaieteur News Publisher predicted that the $126B will be spent on a selected few government officials through inflated projects.
“…President Ali is going to put $100M into the Gas-to-shore Project what Guyanese know nothing about and got Ashni Singh telling this nation how it’s too early to say, whether the public servants can get an increase in their salary. This country can’t be real…” Mr. Lall told his audience. He said the NRF Act, which governs the country’s oil resources is very specific about what the money should be spent on, and what portion of it should be saved. “Anyhow them twist it, anyhow you turn it, our oil money will be spent on all the projects in 2022 and nothing will be left in the account for our children,” Lall noted.
Poverty in the country
Lall spoke about intense poverty in Guyana, referencing a visit to his office by a woman he knew. He stated that the woman has five children and was begging him for help because she has to move from where she is living. “She barely making money to feed her children and pay her rent. She said ‘Glenn this had happened to me one time before in which I had to beg friends to keep the older children and I used to take the two smaller ones and go in the nights at the emergency unit of the Georgetown Hospital, cover my head and sleep there until morning’.” “She said after a couple nights they (hospital staff) caught her and she was so shame to tell them she got nowhere to go with the two children, but she is not a beggar, she’s a public servant who just can’t make ends meet.”
Lall said the dilemma of that woman and her family mirrors that of thousands of Guyanese across this country who cannot make ends meet. “Yes this is happening in an oil-rich country, the second fastest growing economy on earth today.” “Mr. President Ali, Mr. Norton and Mr. Jagdeo – US$60M out of that US$630M oil money should have been used to double all the public servants’ salary, and double every senior citizens pension for the whole year already, so that woman’s salary could have been doubled and she didn’t have to walk around the place in tears, begging for anything that can help her move.”
Despite boasting the double digit GDP, the World Bank has classified Guyana as one of the poorest countries in South America, with 43.4 percent of the population living on less than US$5.50 per person a day in 2011.
The country, the Bank stated, has one of the highest emigration rates in the world – roughly half of its nationals with tertiary education leave Guyana and more than 39 percent of its citizens reside abroad– placing it among the largest recipients of remittances relative to GDP in Latin American and the Caribbean. According to the World Bank, recent increases in active cases of COVID-19 and deaths are cause for concern. The Bank said as the government begins to develop the oil and gas sector, ensuring governance mechanisms that adhere to international environmental and social standards is critical to avoid many of the issues resource-rich countries have faced.
Meanwhile, still on the topic of higher pay for public servants, Lall alluded to remarks by Dr. Singh during the budget examination in which he said the People’s Progressive Party/Civic government is firmly committed to working closely with all stakeholders in society including organised labour on all matters of national importance. However, Lall asked where was the principle when the government arbitrarily imposed increase on the workers? “When you listen to these people, you have to ask yourself many questions. One of them is – are these people for real, can they be trusted, can they see the creator’s face?”
The newspaper publisher recalled President Irfaan Ali previously saying that “he supports far more than 20 percent increase for them; public servants…but today this young man sits down as the lead man, passing a budget with the people’s own oil money, without a blind dollar in it for them. The same people he was screaming his support for. That is what you call trust, that is what you call leadership? No, that is what you call an honest, trustworthy and a believable politician, all they give you is empty promises, about what they are going to do for you and what they wouldn’t do for you…”
Lall said as an opposition Member of Parliament, Ali was on top of his voice in parliament calling on the then Coalition administration to increase wages for public servants, at a time when there were no oil resources. “He was supporting giving more than 20 percent increase to the civil servants. Now the oil money come in his hands, and he is in the driving seat, in total command and control, throwing US$30M, which is just over half the money for public servants’ salary, on a bush road,” Lall stated, making reference to the Linden-Mabura Road. He added, “Throwing away a full seven percent of the oil money again on that milking cow (Cheddi Jagan Airport) that will never be completed.”
In addition to Lall, the pro-democracy group, Article 13 also flagged government’s $552.9B budget, saying that too much of the country’s architecture seems designed to serve the business class, with emphasis on growing certain types and classes of businesses while the average Guyanese does not appear to benefit to the same degree. “We note too that while businesses and oil companies are getting tax breaks on vehicles and equipment, the average Guyanese is paying a larger percentage of their earnings just to feed themselves while our pensioners will receive a mere $3,000 (approx. US$15) per month in increase. These need careful examination,” the group said in a statement reacting to the budget which was approved by the National Assembly Thursday evening.
The main opposition, APNU+AFC, has decried the estimate as anti-working class. Opposition frontbencher, Senior Counsel, Roysdale Forde, during his budget debate presentation said the budget will widen the economic gap between the poor, the working class and the rich. He said government, in presenting the $552.9B Budget, has thus far failed to provide a blue print for the equitable distribution of the country’s resources. Forde said Guyanese, in 2021, witnessed and experienced a rapid deterioration of the social and economic conditions which were further compounded by the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
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