President Donald Ramotar does not believe that it is too late for meaningful budget consultations and he has directed Minister of Finance Dr. Ashni Singh to meet with stakeholders, including the opposition, on it.
Speaking at his first press conference for the year, Ramotar said that he wants engagement with the opposition on the budget.
“I have said publicly and I have told the Minister Singh to have extensive consultations on the budget measures. I think today is meeting with some interest groups. I told him to engage the opposition in consultation as far as the budget is concerned,” he said. “I hope that these consultations can take place quickly now after the holiday period and hopefully we could have a budget that is acceptable to all the parties in Parliament and that we can go forward,” he said.
Members of the opposition have expressed the opinion that a collision looms for the budget this year since the government and the opposition could not seem to reach agreement on measures therein.
Leader of the Opposition David Granger had written the President seeking to set up the tripartite budget committee. The President had replied and while he was not inclined to go in the direction of a tripartite committee, he invited submissions from the opposition parties.
In response to the call for submissions, APNU and AFC both urged tax reform, including the lowering of the Value-Added Tax, and called for greater financial accountability.
APNU said priorities for the budget should be job creation, training, education and health access for the poor. It said too that there should be special treatment, such as a ‘living pension,’ for the vulnerable, including old age pensioners; and that there should be a new minimum wage.
APNU also called for the reform of the NIS and its governance in the medium to longer term as part of a drive to restore an effective safety net for the populace.
The AFC in its submission called on the government to create significantly better job opportunities for young people than exist today. It also called for a reduction in the 16% VAT by two percentage points, a 40% reduction on the Berbice River Bridge toll, an increase in old age pension to $15,000 and a 10% increase in public servant wages across the board.
Approached in Parliament for an update of the budget presentations, Minister Singh declined to say how his consultations were proceeding.