Jan 21, 2023 News
Kaieteur News – Opposition Leader Aubrey Norton believes that the People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPP/C) government is deliberately harping about the large sums of money it is investing into the economy but remains mum on the benefits derived from the very investments.
At the People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR) weekly press conference, Norton criticized the government’s massive $781B 2023 budget, declaring that despite the estimates increasing more than 41 percent from last year, less than one percent of the allocation was set aside for cost-of-living recovery.
He said that where there are supposed to be specific benefits to people and quality of life improvements, there is little to no comment or record of the positive changes being derived from the pro-people measures that are supposed to come from the increased oil revenue.
“Where are the measures to expand small businesses, to transform communities, to transition to value added products, to re-imagine the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GUYSUCO) and agriculture to create employment and to generally give hope to the People,” Norton questioned.
He said that, “The government continues to speak not in terms of outcomes and direct benefits on the livelihood of people, but in terms of dollar spent. This practice is deliberately deceptive and must change starting with a commitment to eradicate poverty in the shortest possible time,” Norton asserted.
The party leader said that Guyana will see its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita surpassing Trinidad and Tobago as another oil ship this year, is expected to push production to nearly 600,000 barrels of oil per day, and the Natural Resource Fund (NRF) reaching some US$2B.
The Opposition Leader declared however that “under this government, Guyana is experiencing what economist call the ‘paradox of plenty’ where countries with abundant natural resources have poor outcomes and living standards.”
Norton said that since human resource is critical to national development, he would have thought that the government would have allocated more resources to the development of projects that empower its citizens. That, he said, would include better education and the resources to ensure upgraded learning services across the country “as well as world-class social services in health, public utilities, public safety, justice, and a clean environment.”
Norton explained that budget 2023 failed to speak on quality of life indicators that give an idea about the country’s investment outcomes in areas of life expectancy, literacy and numeracy levels, infant and maternal mortality rates, and doctors-to-patients ratios, teachers-to-students ratios, crime rates, and access to adequate food and nutrition. Instead, the opposition leader believes that the PPP-government is more interested in serving its business affiliates than lifting Guyanese out of poverty.
The Parliamentary opposition has spoken extensively on the issue of transparency and accountability relating to the spending of oil revenues. They have accused the government of undermining transparency systems such as changes made to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), making it even more difficult for a sitting due to an increase quorum requirement.
Parliament’s Natural Resource Committee is also not serving its purpose as there has been no meeting of the body which is chaired by the Natural Resource Minister Vickram Bharrat.
Just over a week ago, the A Partnership for National Unity+ Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) Coalition said that for three years, the Natural Resource Committee-where members of the Opposition can have some of their concerns for the oil and gas industry raised – has failed to meet.
Additionally, the Opposition accused the government of weakening oil money oversight mechanisms by implanted party affiliates in the Natural Resource Fund (NRF) Oversight Committee. They said the government changed the composition of the committee’s representatives, and seven of the nine persons appointed are known publicly to have deep affiliation with the PPP. Indicating a close tie between the governing party and the private sector commission, the said two representatives were picked from that body, while the three religious organizations selected, are also known to be close to the governing party, the opposition explained.
They are adamant that “the PPP Government has no genuine interest in transparency and accountability with respect to the spending of oil money.” At the break of the New Year, the opposition announced coming activities to force the government’s accountability prospects. They say that the government continues to hide business deals it makes on behalf of the country and defiantly spend on projects without the requisite information being made public, the necessary consultations and even the relevant studies.
Stakeholders and transparency advocates have also expressed similar concerns. They are adamant that with increased revenue at Guyana’s disposal, the country cannot go forward without the necessary checks and balances which ensure value for money spent.
More than often, they regurgitate the Skeldon Sugar Factory Modernisation project, the Marriot Hotel, the fibre optic cable project, the Specialty Hospital and the Amaila Hydro Fall project as a few expensive examples to learn from where millions of US dollars were invested in projects that collapsed, outright failed to return or were incomplete despite sums such as mobilization fees being handed over to contractors.
Norton believes that Guyana can be one of the best places to live once the country’s wealth is utilized transparently and appropriately on measures that serve citizens. He said what the government has been doing however, is pretending that the nation is impoverished and underperforming, while huge windfall revenues abounded from the high oil price.
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