Budget cuts were `slash and burn’ exercise – Ramkarran

Commentator Ralph Ramkarran has flayed the $37.4B cuts to this year’s budget by the opposition as a slash and burn exercise.

In his column in the last Sunday Stabroek, Ramkarran, a former two-term Speaker of the National Assembly said that the disapprovals by APNU and the AFC were not based on high principle but political expediency.

“The disapproval of the Amerindian (Development) Fund, for example, was based on the suspicion, not evidence, that it was used for political purposes by the government. But I would have thought that when considering ‘disapprovals,’ to use the word forced upon us by the court decision, the opposition would have considered a higher principle which has not been sufficiently articulated and given enough prominence in targeted discourse by government spokespersons, even by (Finance) Minister (Dr Ashni) Singh.

“It is that Guyana’s economy is on the move. This has been set out in the Budget speech and by various international bodies and persons, including the President of the Caribbean Development Bank on a recent visit to Guyana. A consistent growth rate of five per cent, more or less, and low inflation figures, need to be nurtured. Government spending on clearly beneficial projects such as the Specialty Hospital, the Airport, tourism and general infrastructure, hydroelectricity and others, whereby money is fed into the economy, helps along the development process and increases economic activity once inflation is being contained as is now the case. It creates or maintains employment which the opposition has severely criticized the Budget Estimates for not doing. Well, the opposition cannot argue from both sides of its mouth accusing the government of doing nothing to create employment and disapproving of major projects at the same time”, Ramkarran argued.

Ramkarran, who quit the ruling PPP after nearly 50 years, said that the Minister of Finance had outlined in his budget presentation the challenges faced by the economy. Singh, he said, had also pointed out that foreign direct investment and exports were both down. Ramkarran asserted that investors look at the political climate, and what happens to the Budget is one indicator, before deciding whether to invest. The sugar industry, he said, needs rejuvenation and capital inflows to restore export volume and other sectors also need help.

“Administrative capacity is needed to keep the governmental apparatus turning over and infrastructure development is necessary to increase efficiency of both the productive and service sectors. The rationale for the opposition disapprovals, based on suspicions and allegations, are not enough grounds to reduce the sums for whole items of the Budget even if difficulties are found with them. Where corruption, extravagance, wastage or political use of funds are suspected, other legislative mechanisms must be deployed to deal with them, not the haphazard and unsystematic slashing of the Budget Estimates. The opposition has the creative imagination to legislate checks and balances and if they do not attract the President’s assent, they can go to the public or the electorate”, Ramkarran argued.

He noted that the opposition has argued for higher old age pensions wages and salaries and efforts at greater employment but Ramkarran said these would only be possible if economic growth is encouraged while maintaining economic and political stability and government’s budgetary support.



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