Budget battle lines drawn

-President non-committal on amending estimates

As he defended the 2014 budget yesterday, President Donald Ramotar says that he cannot say if his government was prepared to amend the estimates and will “cross that bridge” when it comes to it.

The opposition has signalled that there will be cuts to the 2014 budget estimates but the  president says that he would not pre-empt and speculate on what would be disapproved and as such will determine what measures his government will make after proposed adjustments have been made.

“I know they did it in the past and (are)  capable of doing it again…but I am optimistic. I hope they vote for this (budget) if they don’t we will cross our bridges when we come to them…let’s wait and see,” said the President at a press conference yesterday at the Office of the President.

He was at the time responding to questions on his government’s plan should the opposition propose adjustments to the 2014 budget estimates.

Khemraj Ramjattan
Khemraj Ramjattan

In addition, he said that he was satisfied with the unchanged income tax threshold and would await a study to determine a way forward as it pertains to the Value Added Tax (VAT).

Both A Partnership for National Unity and the Alliance for Change have signalled their disapproval of some aspects of this year’s budget and have said that they will not approve the proposed sums.

The leaders of both parties said that during the estimates they would be lobbying for increases in the income tax threshold and a reduction in VAT among other items they believe need changing.

“We have noticed several deficiencies already …I would say we are not setting out to cut but we are setting out to highlight and correct and approve those items that promote socio economic growth   and alleviate poverty and disapprove those items that impede development ,” Opposition Leader David Granger told Stabroek News yesterday.

Alliance for Change Leader Khemraj Ramjattan said that while making a case for items that his party had proposed for the budget there will also be cuts to some estimates.

“I have made it quite clear than GINA and NCN will be cut … and there will be some others but I know the specialty hospital is definitely going,” Ramjattan said.

Ramotar yesterday justified aspects of the 2014 budget saying he believed that it was targeted to cater for the populace’s benefit.

“The philosophical underpinning of the budget was to ensure that the broadest cross section of people would have benefited from the measure and secondly that we continue to create a conducive environment for social and economic growth in the country,” he said.

“The budget has captured our efforts to expand the economy,” Ramotar added.

Granger said that the budget was a skewed one and did not reflect conscious efforts to tackle the issues of poverty and low unemployment rates.

Further, he pointed out that his party was hoping that in this year’s budget there would have been a reduction in the Value Added Tax and an increase in the income tax threshold. However he said that this was not to be and he was “greatly disappointed” and would now be pushing for these measures to be implemented during the budget debate. “We would have thought there would be a reduction in VAT and the threshold. We thought that would at least go up but, nothing!” he exclaimed.

The AFC leader said that his party also expected a reduction in the 16% VAT and would also be making recommendations during the budget debate.

“Our points will be made in relation to the budget debates …A reduction of the VAT which is going to help everybody in the country, we want that. The previous year when he set up the tax review committee. I don’t know what studies they were to complete since mid last year when are they going to complete it… what is taking so long?   It is all a set of misrepresentation and we don’t talk believe one word of Donald Ramotar anymore,” he said.

Ramjattan said that he believes that a consensus on the estimates could have been reached before the budget was presented if government had held tripartite talks with his party and APNU. “These demands could have been implemented long time …we would have ensured it happened had there been consultations since the 1st of July last year.

“That is the way it should have been. We sit down and have tripartite talks but this government went ahead and it did all that they could to not make it happen so we are right back where we began…but we are analyzing the estimates and will make adjustments where we determine necessary,” he noted.

The president did note at the press conference that a tax review committee was set up and should be coming to the end of its analysis soon. “Long ago I had commissioned a study to do it (tax review) … I think that body is very close to finishing its work at this point and time …we had even attached a university to do a study with that body. That university has come out … so hopefully we can come to a conclusion and that will be able to advise on the way forward on the whole tax system,” the President stated.

“Tax is the lifeblood of government revenue so you don’t want to make a mistake with that so you want to handle it very, very carefully and I don’t think it’s probably the best to handle it at a every piecemeal way at this point and time,” he added.











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