President Donald Ramotar in a speech to the nation tonight slammed $21B of budget cuts orchestrated by the opposition in Parliament yesterday but there was no talk of calling a new election as some had anticipated.
In his presentation he accused APNU of reneging on deals which had been agreed in hushed up talks at the Office of the President. These talks led to the increase of old age pension to $10,000 per month from $8,100 per month but were abandoned after APNU came under severe criticism for going into such talks without the Alliance For Change. APNU had apparently been seeking to extract concessions in return for permitting the budget to pass without cuts.
Tonight, the President revealed that among issues which had been discussed with APNU was the creation of a Depressed Community Fund valued at $2B for 2012.
Ramotar said that the government had demonstrated goodwill from the outset by increasing the old age pension and he charged that APNU reneged on the deals “fearing that the AFC would steal political support from them, and bowing to pressures from extremists in and outside of their ranks”.
What APNU and the government apparently agreed on electricity tariffs for Linden sparked ire in the mining town and appeared to be a key determinant in the collapse of the talks.
Ramotar said: “More than that we agreed on a package of measures to assist the citizens of Linden where we agreed to implement a phased reduction in subsidies which would see the citizens of that mining community paying only a half of the tariff which the rest of the country is paying.” Linden leaders reacted in anger when they heard that APNU had arrived at such a deal without consulting them. APNU leader had to make a hurried visit to the mining town where they were the subject of heated criticisms.
On the question of the Value Added Tax, Ramotar said that the government posited that a study had to be done first but that the government was willing to extend the list of zero-rated items.
On the demand for the reduction of the Berbice Bridge tolls, the President said the government pointed out the bridge was being run by a private company with important investors. Ramotar said that APNU was told that a ferry was being put back for the river crossing to assist school children and workers in Rosignol and West Bank Berbice.
The full text of the presentation prepared for delivery follows:
SPECIAL ADDRESS TO THE NATION BY HIS EXCELLENCY, DONALD RAMOTAR
PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF GUYANA
I had hoped to be addressing you under more pleasant and uplifting circumstances. As you know the budget presented this year was for 192.5 billion dollars. It was a budget which was carefully crafted to lift the quality of life of all our people.
Unfortunately the opposition AFC and APNU used their one seat majority to cut the budget by some 20.9 billion dollars.
These cuts appear to be motivated by a desire of the AFC and APNU to score cheap political points and to undermine progress in our country.The implications of the cuts are wide ranging. In the first instance, they could result in many ordinary working people losing their jobs. This will place new burdens on these persons, many of whom are the bread winners of their families. In this regard the cuts are heartless. Secondly, the cuts threaten the financing of the many transformative projects which were intended to boost economic growth, create thousands of jobs and ensure increased benefits for all Guyanese. In this way the cuts threaten the future of our young people.
They have even voted against funds coming into the country to finance projects like the flagship Amaila Falls Hydro Power Station which is so critical to reducing the cost of electricity and which would have allowed us to reduce our dependence on imported fossil fuels and boost manufacturing including agro-processing and industrialization.
Particularly affected are our indigenous and hinterland communities. The shears of the Opposition have injudiciously severed the Hinterland Electrification Project which would have seen eleven thousand solar energy systems being provided to interior residents in 150 communities.
The Opposition has also vindictively butchered a project for land titling for Amerindian communities as well as a micro and small enterprise initiative that would have provided small grants and support to small entrepreneurs.
They have scalped the country’s ambitious ICT programme which would have promoted increased investments and created numerous jobs for our people. In addition, the cuts have crippled the Ethnic Relations Commission and undermined our fight against narco-trafficking. Through these poisonous acts, the Opposition seems determined to slow down and eventually halt the impressive growth taking place under the PPP/Civic Government. Using the dictatorship of one which they have in Parliament they want to stymie further progress obviously in the hope that if they can stop the development of our country they would advance their political mission which is to take power, even if is at the expense of ordinary Guyanese well-being.
This is most reckless and irresponsible and reflects the undemocratic nature of APNU, a creature of the PNCR, and the AFC which is led by bitter men obsessed with achieving personal power.
I do not make these statements lightly. I say this because they have done this foul deed after we had several meetings over six days during which the government provided exhaustive answers to all their concerns and offered reasonable responses to their demands.
In the course of these engagements, we had reached agreements with APNU which they subsequently reneged on, fearing that the AFC would steal political support from them, and bowing to pressures from extremists in and outside of their ranks.
We demonstrated goodwill from the beginning in increasing the old age pension to ten thousand dollars per month. That alone would cost the treasury more than one billion dollars.
More than that we agreed on a package of measures to assist the citizens of Linden where we agreed to implement a phased reduction in subsidies which would see the citizens of that mining community paying only a half of the tariff which the rest of the country is paying.
The adjustment in the subsidy became necessary because it is unsustainable. The price of fuel increased from US$5 – $7 per barrel in 1992 to US$120 per barrel today.
Moreover, by gradually aligning the tariffs with the rest of the country, we hope to encourage greater conservation of energy in Linden. At the moment the per capita household consumption in Linden is almost three times that of households in the rest of Guyana. Yet during the negotiations both the AFC and APNU were inflexible on this issue.
On the issue of reduction in the Value Added Tax which they proposed, we told them that we believed that a study was needed before any action was taken. However, we indicated that we were willing to sit with them to agree on extending the list of zero- rated items. This we believe is a more targeted way to assist persons considered to be low income earners.
On the reduction of the toll fees on the Berbice River Bridge, we pointed out that the company, BBCI running that entity was a private company. We pointed out that some very important public institutions had invested in the bridge, including the NIS and New Building Society. We went over with them how the fees were arrived at. They were advised also that we were putting back a ferry to cross the river to correct the disadvantage that school children and workers in the Rosignol and West Bank Berbice may experience since the bridge became operational. Moreover, we asked them to consider the implications for investors in our country were we to do what they demanded -to nationalize the Bridge and make it a state company. We told them that that would put us in a bad position since we had agreed with the investors on a rate of return and that the bridge will become government owned after twenty years of operation. This too they rejected.
We also agreed to the creation of a Depressed Community Fund and proposed its funding of over 2 billion dollars for 2012 through an allocation of 1% of VAT revenue collections in 2011.
My Dear country men, women, and youth:
The PPP/Civic has always been ready to consult and to meet with the opposition and all stakeholders in the interest of advancing the socio-economic interests of our people.Even before I was sworn in as President; I agreed to meet and did meet the opposition parties. We met on other occasions at short notice to discuss matters of national interest.
On my instruction, the contracts of all the projects which they queried were made available publicly and to APNU and the AFC. We also laid in Parliament all the documents they requested in relation to projects. I even invited them to a full presentation of the Amaila Falls Project in which all their questions were answered. We even told them that if they had any other questions or concerns we were willing to answer them. We have been open and frank at all times with the Opposition.
Unfortunately, the combined Opposition has conspired and ended up retarding the development taking place in the country. Their actions now threaten the many transformative projects that your government has started and delayed the commencement of others in the pipeline. By putting workers on the breadline, they have demonstrated a callous and mean-spirited attitude. The inexplicable and unfathomable cuts instituted by the opposition to our National Budget constitute an ominous threat to the livelihood of Guyanese and to future generations. These reductions in our Budget provisions assail not just workers rights but also threaten to reverse the gains which our people, through hard work and sacrifice, have earned over the years. The cuts constitute an assault on workers, their living standards, on economic growth, national unity, freedom of expression and our democratic gains.
In spite of this, my faith in dialogue remains undiminished. I still hold to the view that dialogue with all Guyanese, including the political parties, is the best way for us to narrow our differences and reach consensus on the way forward. However dialogue cannot be constructive or productive when the other side is intransigent or adopt an “all or nothing” posture.
I remain optimistic. I have inestimable [profound] faith in the people of this country and their ability to overcome the challenges presented by the developments of the past few days.
I want to assure all Guyana that the steps and decisions my Government takes in the coming period will be guided by the national interest and commitment to the well-being of the people of this country. I am confident that we will overcome the present setback.