Private sector wants frank talks to stave off budget cuts

Chairman of the Private Sector Commission (PSC) Ron Webster is happy that President Donald Ramotar has agreed to meet with the Opposition on the budget and said that there needs to be frank and open discussions and compromise to stave off the cuts which he believes could be a setback to investment in the country.

Speaking to the Stabroek News on Saturday night, Webster said that there is a need to draw “bits and pieces” from everybody that comes to the table and that the parties could go forward with those proposals that “make sense.”  He said that the parties need to be mature.

“I think that they need to be very frank. And there has to be compromise. Some things may not be possible to be done overnight,” he said.

But he said that adherence to the Constitution is vital and that concerns about this must be addressed by the relevant authorities.

He said that certain agencies must be independent for them to properly function and carry out their mandate. “The PSC supports these,” he said.

Ron Webster
Ron Webster

Webster is of the view that any formal dialogue is good and believes that it is a welcome move by the President to set the meeting for today 9 am for the parties to meet and discuss the budget with a view to staving off the cuts. “I hope what comes out of the meeting is what is adhered to,” he said.

Webster pointed to the recent slide in gold prices to illustrate why it is that Guyana cannot become dependent on commodity pricing and must diversity its economy. “You could never be sure with commodity prices,” he warned.

He said that the economy must continue to be strengthened by local and international investors and for this, there needs to be a stable investment climate and inputs made into the country’s infrastructure.

Webster said that given these realities, the impending cuts are of some concern to the PSC since it might lead to a slowing down of the necessary infrastructure investment needed to boost Guyana’s overall investment and business climate.

Newly elected President of the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI) Clinton Urling said that there are some very legitimate issues that the Opposi-tion has put to the government that need attention and addressing, particularly those that deal with transparency and accountability.

“However, the platform (the National Budget) that they have chosen is an erroneous one and one that if the Opposition get their way will be very detrimental and ruinous to not only to our private sector but to the country as a whole, and including opposition supporters and constituencies,” he said.

Urling said that the national budget represents the government’s economic plan for growing the economy “and over the past seven years, we have seen Government’s economic plan result in economic growth.

Clinton Urling
Clinton Urling

“The opposition should allow the national budget as presented by Finance Minister Dr. Ashni Singh to go through and insist on the government establishing institutions that deal with good governance over the course of the next year,” he said.

He said that Government also has to show over the coming year that it is willing to implement some of the demands being made by the opposition to improve transparency and accountability. “If the government doesn’t address these demands and concerns over the next year, come 2014 Budget they will be faced by a similar occurrence.  In the final analysis, it comes down to conciliation and compromise on both sides,” he said.

Today the Government and the Opposition are to make a last ditch effort to avoid cuts through dialogue on a number of burning issues as raised by the Opposition.

The Opposition said that to avoid cuts Government must agree to an across-the-board increase of 10% in wages and salaries for sugar workers and public servants; a rescinding of all frequencies and licences for the broadcast spectrum issued in 2011 prior to the establishment of the Broadcast Authority; the issuance of a licence to Region 10 for the operation of a television station in Linden; to fully account for bailouts and subventions to Guysuco and GPL and to convene a commission of inquiry to look at the operation of the two entities; to reconstitute the tax review committee and mandate it to report to the National Assembly by June 1, 2013; to properly and fully constitute the Integrity Commission, the Human Rights Commission, and Public and Police Service Commissions, the Teaching Service Commission, the Public Service Appellate Tribunal, the Guyana Elections Commission, the Supreme Court, the Director of Public Proasecutions’ Chambers, the Audit Office, and the Office of the Ombudsman to ensure that budgetary arrangements for the provision of funds to meet their annual costs are consistent with Article 222 A of the Constitution.

APNU and AFC called on the government to reform the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) including the implementation of the proposals for restoration of its viability in light of the 2012 actuarial report.

The parties also implored the government to reduce the toll for the Berbice bridge to $1,000; commence discussions to re-establish a professional public service pending which there will be a freeze on further recruitment of contract employees; and undertake a social and cultural audit into the work and professionalism of the NCN and GINA and immediately release the full report of the inquiry into wrong-doings at NCN.

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