Leader of the Opposition David Granger yesterday said APNU and the AFC acted in the nation’s interest by making cuts to the national budget and he called on the PPP/C to return to the negotiating table and agree to introduce reasonable reforms, like a lower VAT.
The opposition, using its one-seat majority in the National Assembly, last week made cuts amounting to $20.8 billion of the $192.5 billion originally proposed by Finance Minister Dr Ashni Singh. APNU and AFC cited concerns about a lack of accountability for some allocations as well as the need to trim wasteful spending in order to enable measures to address the cost of living.
President Donald Ramotar on Friday criticised the opposition for slashing the budget and accused APNU of reneging on agreements reached with his administration. He did, however, affirm his continued commitment to dialogue with the opposition.
In a televised statement aired yesterday, Granger urged that government collaborate with the opposition to introduce an agreed supplementary budget, which gives the Guyanese people the “good life” they deserve.
He said while the opposition does not want to see any workers sent home, government must be accountable for the taxpayers’ money it spends and reiterated that the combined majority would not be averse to approving the spending at a later date should concerns be addressed.
“We don’t want to send anyone home…we want to see greater accountability,” Granger said. “We are on the side for progress for Guyana,” he added. “The aim of the reductions in financial allocations… was never to obstruct the employment of state employees or to terminate programmes that concerned the education or well-being of citizens, either in the hinterland or on the coastland. It was always to make the PPP/C administration understand that it had no alternative but to take decisive action to bring executive lawlessness to an end,” he said.
Granger noted that PPP/C had to accept that, in a parliamentary democracy, it had to respect the will of Parliament. “This meant behaving in a more accountable, efficient, transparent and financially prudent manner than it did since 1992,” he said, adding that APNU and the AFC, in this regard, are always available to meet the PPP/C to recommend amendments.
He said the administration has been talking to itself for 20 years. “It is now angry that the majority of the members of the National Assembly have dared to talk back. It is astounded that members of the public have dared to disagree with its diktat. It is astonished that the people of Guyana, through their elected representatives, have demanded fundamental changes to the National Budget,” he said.
But the opposition, Granger noted, has an obligation to help to avoid the threat of damage likely to be caused by a flawed budget. “It did not seek special political favours from the administration but acted only in the public interest. It demanded to be consulted. It saw this budget as the responsibility of the entire National Assembly – every member of the executive branch and every member of the legislative branch,” he said.
Among the opposition’s “reasonable” demands, for which Granger said the PPP/C adamantly refused to agree to concrete budgetary measures, were:
Reduce the Value-Added Tax rate
Reduce the Berbice River Bridge toll rate
Increase public servants’ salaries and increase in public servants’ retirement age
Increase the University of Guyana’s subvention
Restructure GuySuCo and GPL to make them into viable corporations
Restructure GINA and NCN to make them into responsible national institutions
Restructure NICIL – the National Industrial & Commercial Investments Ltd –to bring its financial assets into the Consolidated Fund
Restructure NIS to make it more viable
Restore the government subvention to the Critchlow Labour College
Further, Granger said there were promises by the government to address the establishment of the Public Procurement Commission and a $2 billion fund to alleviate the suffering of depressed communities. But no firm commitments were made on these, he reported.
In reacting to President Ramotar’s address on Friday night, Granger said the line the President took was one of avoidance of the major issues that the opposition raised. “We made a clear case for the increase of the subvention for UG, but there was nothing in the President’s remarks about that,” he said. “We spoke of poverty…of job creation…but there was no mention of this,” he added.
‘Out of touch’
Granger called the presentation of the budget on March 30 a missed opportunity for dialogue.
“The People’s Progressive Party/Civic can no longer pretend that it speaks for the majority as it now constitutes a parliamentary minority in comparison to the combined strength of A Partnership for National Unity and the Alliance for Change parties. It can no longer claim that it alone has all the answers to the questions of national development,” Granger said.
He added that the budget, if left unchanged, would have had catastrophic consequences for the entire nation for years to come. “The budget, if it is to be of any value, must be a tool to assure the people – ordinary farmers, nurses, students, teachers, managers, workers in the public and private sectors – that their livelihood will be safeguarded. It must convince the people that they have a stake in the future of this country. It must encourage people to have confidence in the country and it must provide the funds and resources to do so,” he said.
He noted that poverty is the greatest impediment to progress because it prevents thousands of people from participating meaningfully in the economy. “The fact that over one-third of all Guyanese are classified as poor, or extremely poor, is nothing to boast about or to ignore. The budget failed to reflect this concern and the PPP/C actually resisted measures to alleviate poverty and reduce the cost-of-living – such as lowering the Value-Added Tax – as proposed by the APNU [and] AFC opposition,” he said.
“The PPP/C made no provision to provide the Guyana Police Force or the Guyana Defence Force with sufficient maritime craft, aircraft and all-terrain vehicles to enable them to suppress the worst forms of narcotics-trafficking, gun-running and contraband smuggling which are responsible for pumping violence into the country,” he said.
He argued that the opposition argued that Guyanese citizens must never again be prevented from listening to the radio of their choice or viewing television programmes of their choice. “The opposition made it clear that citizens are fed up with the pap purveyed by the Government Information Agency and the National Communications Network,” Granger said, adding that from the time of the presentation of the budget, it was clear that the administration had made a big mistake. “It was clear that the proposed budget was badly out-of-touch with the reality of the actual needs of the people and the conditions in the country,” he said.