Opposition Leader David Granger says that the APNU intends to use the cuts it jointly made with AFC last evening to the government’s $192.8B budget as a form of “leverage” to get the PPP/C administration to address the core concerns raised by the Opposition.
“We will continue to work for our supporters. We will use the leverage that we have gained this evening to go back to the government to continue talks until we get what we want,” Granger told reporters last evening during a break in the parliamentary sitting.
Granger said that the APNU and the AFC decided to cut $2.233B from the budget after talks between the government and the two parties broke down on Tuesday evening. “The PPP did not accept a single request or recommendation from the APNU and the AFC teams,” Granger said. “It was no negotiation at all,” he added.
Among the issues that the APNU and the AFC have been advocating are for a reduction in the Value Added Tax; an increase of University of Guyana subventions; a reduction in the Berbice River Bridge Toll; an increase in Public Servants salaries and the establishment of a Procurement Commission. Granger said that the only issue that the government conceded was when it agreed to increase old age pensions from the proposed $8,100 to $10,000.
“We told the government that we are prepared to consider requests for supplementary provisions if we get the items that we feel can promote development and can reduce the cost of living for the people,” Granger said. He said that the APNU said it is prepared to support supplementary estimates for the government as long as it provides the concessions that the party has requested. The APNU, Granger says, believes that these concessions are necessary for the social and economic development of Guyana.
“We have not been able to achieve our expectations and we had to use this particular technique with the expectation that we will be consulted in the future,” he said. He said that the APNU had entered into talks with the government with the hope that they could persuade the government that they were the majority and were speaking for the majority of the public. He said too that at the first meeting between the government and the APNU, it had requested the presence of the AFC.
“We entered the talks with goodwill. We entered the talks with the expectation that the PPP/C would accede to some of our requests because we feel that we have to get the PPP on our side if we are to move the country forward, Granger said.
Granger meanwhile said that the party did not achieve its objectives but stopped short of saying that the APNU had been deceived by the government. He said the party was “soft-hearted” but not “soft-headed.
However, AFC Chairman Khemraj Ramjattan said that his party’s move to cut the budget was not about leverage but about ensuring “efficient management” of the country’s resources. “It is to ensure that there is better performance. We also are indicating we would like to see all the revenue streams come into the Consolidated Fund,” Ramjattan said. He said too that the AFC believed that the cuts made were necessary for better management.
Meanwhile, both Opposition parties say they are prepared for any public relations backlash by the government about the two opposition parties partnering to pass the budget cuts.
Granger told reporters that the party has already been in contact with its representatives in the region giving them instructions to counteract such a move by the government. “We are prepared but we are confident that our supporters understand the motivation that we have had throughout the budget debate. We are on their side and we are only using some of these cuts in order to bring the government back to the negotiating table…,” Granger said.
As for the non-supporters of the Opposition parties, Granger said that the APNU will emphasis that steps taken were not against ordinary workers. “We will continue to let them know that the moves that we have made, the steps that we have taken are not against the working class, are not against ordinary workers. They are against a government which is refusing to consider the types of changes which we need,” Granger said.
Meanwhile, Ramjattan said that such an attack by the government is anticipated but that the party has faith that the population will follow the principle behind them. “Principled positions demand that we see it through based on reason. If the populism is going to make you do all manner of things and support the government’s budget then we are not going to get anywhere,” Ramjattan said.