‘Death announcement’ budget animates both sides of the House

He entered the Parliament Chambers to loud cheers and desk thumping by his colleagues some of whom grabbed his hand as he passed, even as he momentarily had one hand in midair giving the impression that something good was in store, but when he concluded, perhaps even some of Finance Minister Winston Jordan’s colleagues might have agreed with an opposition heckler that it was a ‘three-hour death announcement’.

The Minister spent some time regaling the House on the fact that it was the third budget the Government has presented in just about one and a half years and it was only the second budget to be presented before the commencement of the fiscal year.

The Government delivered on its campaign promise and finally reduced the Value Added Tax (VAT) by 2% and this announcement saw many on the Government side thumping their desks, but the opposition was like a roaring lion when the Minister slipped in the tax for electricity and water bills; and if you listened carefully the roar was heard around Guyana too.

The Minister chucked the adage ‘save the best for last’ because it was almost at the end that those new measures were introduced along with other taxes.

Former Amerindian Affairs Minister Pauline Sukhai in heckle mode (Photo by Keno George)
Former Amerindian Affairs Minister Pauline Sukhai in heckle mode (Photo by Keno George)

For over two hours things might have looked good up: there was the announcement that the first phase of the Georgetown to Lethem road would begin next year along with other infrastructural projects.

He sipped his water from time to time and the long hours saw him stumbling over a few words, but the Minister mostly held his own at the podium. He was about to use the “wrong number,” according to him, at one point but apart from that he marched on like a well-trained soldier. He was heckled (well almost drowned out) when he touched the light and water bills and praised throughout and at times Speaker Dr Barton Scotland was forced to use the gavel as some parliamentarians got out of hand with the shade throwing.

Opposition leader Bharrat Jagdeo was the most animated of the opposition members, understandable since he was a Finance Minister and Jordan once worked under him.

When he was not taking copious notes he sat back in his chair with one of his hands just below his nose, in a contemplative manner, listening intently. At other times he and Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo carried on conversations across the aisle and if one did not know differently, one would have form the impression that they were old buddies and not sparring political rivals.

On the Government side Minister of Communities Ronald Bulkan paid keen attention while some of his colleagues busied themselves, maybe with office work, and a few seemed to have fallen asleep. Minister within the Ministry of Natural Resources Simona Broomes seemed to have donned her ‘chief heckler’ hat, as she did not give her colleagues on the opposition side breathing space, resulting in her and former Amerindian Affairs Minister Pauline Sukhai almost getting into a verbal war. The gavel of the Speaker brought calm.

It was difficult to get a steady view of the parliamentarians because of the sea of derrières belonging to the cameramen that blocked the view. How many still photographs does one have to take?  But it did seem like the PPP/C’s Needkumar might have broken his hand as he had it in a sling.

Jordan used the Government’s famous line “the good life” so often that at one point Jagdeo beat him to the punch and said the words before he did, adding that the Minister was “so predictable.” They all laughed and those on the Government side thumped their desks.

As Jordan spoke of the troubles of the ailing Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) some on the government side called out “major conspiracy.” The PPP/C’s Komal Chand perked up here folding his arms across his chest and looking piercingly at Jordan. But all he got was an announcement that a Cabinet sub-committee would be making a presentation before the end of the year on the corporation which will receive another bail out in the sum of $9 billion. However the Minister’s statement, “Money injected into sugar is money wasted,” did not go down well with the opposition members who almost on cue, objected, keeping up the façade since a large chunk of their political support comes from the sugar base.

The Minister deserves a pat on the back for announcing that shortly 12 police stations will be equipped to conduct domestic violence interviews. But when he announced measures for children which include improving the education offered and said “government cannot and will not fail out children,” Jagdeo quipped, “Give them back the $10,000 voucher.”

Jordan had risen to the podium to loud desk thumping and as he took his seat the desk thumping was heard again, but it had decreased significantly.

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