Budget needs significant changes for passage – Opposition Leader

A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) will not approve Budget 2014 unless “significant amendment(s)” are made with regard to allocations, says coalition leader David Granger.

Though patches of APNU’s stance on the budget have been trickling in since it was presented on Monday, the coalition chose to officially stamp its verbal seal of disapproval during its weekly press briefing yesterday.

Reading from a statement, Granger slammed government for not allocating amounts towards reducing poverty; for not creating proper employment opportunities; for not addressing deficiencies in the National Insurance Scheme (NIS); and for not alleviating the tax burden being borne by the poorer segments of society by reforming taxes.

Granger, as well as APNU financial spokesperson Carl Greenidge, who sat beside him yesterday, also tore into government for seeking to transfer “massive” amounts of funds to public corporations, including the Guyana Power and Light (GPL) Inc. and the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) without seeking a bipartisan approach to arriving at returns for these transfers.

Had government heeded APNU’s calls for the opposition’s inclusion in preparing the budget, Granger pointed out, the current standoff would not have arisen. He further said that government needs to effect “radical change in its approach to the preparation of the annual budget,” and added that the 2014 budget needs to be significantly modified if APNU is expected to agree with its passing.

Detailing what the coalition sees as the budget’s shortcomings, Granger said that while the cost of living in Guyana continues to spiral upward, “Budget 2014 offers no relief to the plight of the poor and vulnerable who include the aged and young and unemployed men and women.”

He also said that the budget contains no plans to avail those who graduate or drop out of high school annually with realistic job opportunities. Those who manage to find jobs, he argued, more often than not are not paid salaries commensurate with their qualifications. “Levels of pay and conditions of work for public servants, including nurses, teachers, and defence and security personnel must be reviewed,” Granger demanded.

With regard to the NIS, Granger suggested that APNU is not convinced that enough is being done to keep the agency afloat, while Greenidge said that annual actuarial reports have said that the agency is in bad shape.

Granger said that there needs to be “far-reaching reform in order to avert a social crisis” in the NIS.

Instead of addressing the matter though, Granger continued, government continues to ignore reports which comment on the predicament the agency has been put in. Government on the other hand, argues that it is taking steps towards safeguarding NIS.

President Donald Ramotar, during a press briefing on Thursday, said that a lot of money is allocated for NIS this year, much of which will go towards studies which will serve to help sustain the scheme. $226 million is allocated in the budget for NIS, although APNU says “the proposed level is inadequate.”

The coalition also asked why the tax burden created by the Value Added Tax (VAT) and other heavy taxes has not been alleviated. While campaigning for the presidency in 2011, Ramotar promised to put the reviewing of VAT high on his agenda.

More than two years later, VAT, and several other taxes remain high thereby perpetuating the burden placed on the poor, Granger said.

Asked why no taxes were revised this year, Ramotar noted that taxes are the main contributor to government revenue, and said that careful consideration must be made when deciding to reduce taxes.

VAT alone raked in $34.4 billion, 0.8 percent more than it did in 2012, although domestic supply contracted by $499.5 million. Ramotar said on Thursday that he had commissioned a study whose findings will inform government as it approaches tax reform.

He said that a report is being prepared and will be given to government. Yesterday, Greenidge said he is not optimistic that the report alluded to by the president will be handed over. He even expressed skepticism that the study was done.


Elections Budget


APNU also said they see Budget 2014 as an elections budget. APNU MP Jaipaul Sharma, during the press conference, said that the government wants to push APNU to oppose the budget so they can use it as propaganda to gain support from the public.

There is no other way, he argued, to explain allocating amounts for the Amaila Falls Hydropower Project when the project is no longer ongoing.

Budget 2014 contains allocations totalling US$80 million for the Amaila project and funds are also allocated to complete the road leading to the project site.

Greenidge reiterated once more that the budget was improperly brought before the house as it is not an accurate reflection of the state’s revenue. He said that there are several extra-budgetary agencies which continue to expend public funds without reporting to the National Assembly how those funds are spent and for what reason.

These agencies include the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Ltd.





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