The $142.8 billion budget announced yesterday by Finance Minister Dr Ashni Singh has been lambasted by members of the parliamentary opposition who say that the budget offers “nothing new” to Guyanese.
Shadow Finance Minister PNCR-1G MP Winston Murray said that Singh’s presentation was “long on words and short on substance”. He noted that Singh had delivered a three-hour presentation but he criticised the finance minister for not outlining how the administration plans to “lift Guyanese out of poverty” and improve their general lives. He noted that the budget also failed to address the issue of unemployment.
Addressing the government’s failure to life the income tax threshold for yet another year, Murray said the burden on the people remained. He said that the since the cost of living has increased due to inflation, the threshold should have been set at a level where the ordinary man earning the bare minimum salary would be able to get by.
Further, Murray noted that last year while public servants were given a six per cent pay hike, the old age pensioners did not receive any such increase and the minister announced they would only be benefiting from this increase in January, 2010.
He also spoke about the burden of the value added tax (VAT) which he described as a millstone around people’s necks. He noted that VAT has proved to be a great revenue earner for the government but he opined that this money was being spelt widely without it being channelled to lift the burdens of the people.
Murray noted that while this year’s budget which amounts to $142.8 billion, is the largest in the country’s history, there was no mention of measures being put in place to address corruption. He said corruption is causing funds to be “leaked out of the system” and it appeared that the administration had no interest in addressing this issue. He said the failure of the government to establish the Procurement Commission was evidence of this.
Criticising the budget for what he described as “the ad hoc allocation of resources”, Murray said money had been allocated for specialized programmes arranged by the government to train youths but the funds should have been poured into institutions that were already in existence. These would have included institutions such as the Government Technical Institute and the Critchlow Labour College, Murray said. He pointed out that once again the government had refused to provide subventions for the latter institution.
The shadow finance minister also expressed concern at the sugar production target of 280,000 tonnes. He noted that this was lower than that which was projected in 2008 and this comes in spite of his lofty presentation concerning the Skeldon Sugar Factory. The latest projection, Murray noted, come after two successive years of the industry failing to reach the predicted production levels.
Asked what his initial impressions were of yesterday’s budget, Alliance For Change Leader Raphael Trotman opined that “the minister himself did not seem too enthused about his own budget” and appeared “uncharacteristically dull.
“We didn’t see the usual flair that characterizes Dr Singh,” he said, while stating that there was nothing new in the budget. He said he was particularly concerned about the lack of opportunity for the youth and the working people of Guyana.
According to him, the party was hoping that the income tax threshold would have been altered. He noted that while there were no new taxes the tax burden has not been reduced.
He said too that the budget lacks vision beyond 2010 and he expressed his disappointment that issues such as technical vocational schooling, business opportunities and issues relating to the sugar industry were not adequately addressed.
GAP/ROAR MP Everall Franklin echoed the sentiments of Trotman when he described Singh’s presentation as “uninspiring” while adding that Singh seemed to have “a little problem” being enthusiastic about the budget.
He said the budget had “little in it” for the workers and said that Guyanese needed to have more money in their pockets.
According to him the budget did not take into effect the country’s inflation rate, while he too said that failure to adjust the income tax threshold was disappointing.
Franklin further noted that the budget failed to outline how the government will go about implementing its Low Carbon Development Stra-tegy (LCDS) which has been indentified as the pillar of the country’s development.
He said all that was described by the finance minister was the $250 million that the partnership with Norway will yield over a certain period of time.