Leader of the Alliance For Change, Raphael Trotman has described this year’s budget as “being a colossal hoax”, and a major “disappointment” since it failed to frontally address the real concerns of Guyanese, such as poverty, the high cost of living and unemployment.
In a presentation on Friday, which immediately preceded the closing address by Finance Minister Dr Ashni Singh, Trotman criticized the government for presenting a budget that was filled with several unfinished projects from previous years. This, he said, was one of the main contributing factors for the budget being “pedestrian” and visionless. He also criticised the budget for not accounting for how money was spent during last year. He singled out the $3.8 billion that was reportedly spent in the D&I sector during last year, and said that this expenditure did not seem to have any impact on widespread flooding in the country during the recent rainy season.
Meanwhile, he said that based on recommendations received from a study conducted by the German Government in 2003, efforts should be concentrated on developing a new settlement and town away from the coast.
In the context of climate change, Trotman said that implementing such a recommendation would only be an act of wisdom.
The AFC leader also expressed concern about the country’s growing external debt which rose by 16% in 2008 to US$833.7 million. He said that this was alarming since there is expected to be a decline in consumer spending and reductions in tax revenue. He called for the Finance Minister Dr Ashni Singh to explain how the government plans to achieve this “prudent debt management strategy” that Singh referred to during his debate presentation.
Trotman called for the poorest and most vulnerable citizens in the country to be properly taken care of, the banking sector to be extensively scrutinised to ensure that it is safe and that proper protection be offered to these institutions. He also appealed for the GPL tariffs to be reduced considering that the price of oil has dropped considerably from US$150 per barrel of oil to $40 per barrel by the end of 2008.
He also called for the rate of VAT to be slashed and said that contrary to arguments being raised by members of the government, the 16 percent Value Added Tax was a burden to Guyanese.
MP and PPP/C General Secretary Donald Ramotar had earlier argued that VAT “had eased the burden of the people” since it replaced a heavy consumption tax. Ramotar submitted that the fact that the government had zero-rated several items was further testimony to this fact. He said that the reason why customers may be complaining is because this tax is clearly shown on their bills, while previously the Consumption tax was included in the price of an item unknown to the customer.
Meanwhile, in highlighting the party’s parliamentary agenda for this year, Trotman said that his party will be seeking to advance the Freedom of Information legislation and to forward a Constitutional amendment in order to address the issue of Electoral and Party List systems.
Additionally, the party will be seeking a review of the Termination of Pregnancy Act. The AFC also plans to address campaign financing and political party responsibilities during the period of elections and to ensure that each Guyanese has access to the country’s constitution.