Finance Minister to have more budget talks with opposition

Minister of Finance Dr. Ashni Singh says that he is to have another meeting shortly with Opposition parties to discuss their submissions to him on the 2013 national budget.

“We are working on the budget,” said Dr. Singh at a press conference held at NCN studies yesterday. He said that contrary to what some may think, work on the budget is an ongoing endeavour and has been underway for some time.

“We have been having engagements with the Opposition,” he said. I had invited them to a meeting about one month ago and we had a good discussion,” he said.

He said that at the meeting with the Opposition, the parties offered their comments and made their formal submissions a few days later. “We did receive them and they are being carefully considered. Many of the issues are not [new issues],” the Minister said. 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 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 servants’ wages across the board.

“It is my intention to convene a follow up meeting to discuss the [Opposition’s] submissions,” he said, adding that he will also continue to engage with a broader section of stakeholders. “This work will continue and we hope that the ongoing engagement will see it concluding a budget that [will serve the country],” he said.

Last year’s budget was characterised by several cuts to allocations for agencies such as NCN, GINA, the Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC), Customs Anti-Narcotic Unit (CANU) and Office of the President with regards to staff and advisors. Funds allocated for the Low Carbon Development Strategy were also cut when the Opposition rejected the justification for the funding.

Leader of the Opposition David Granger had before the end of last year written President Donald Ramotar asking for him to convene a tripartite budget committee in order to avoid a budget collision. However, the President had declined this request and offered to allow the Opposition to make submissions to the Ministry of Finance.

Granger had made a similar request in December 2011, days after the General Elections.

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