Lots of concern over budget –private sector head

Two years after government promised to tackle unemployment, boost investment and make major strides in achieving a green state economy, Budget 2018 comes with yet again no sound plan of action and the economy looks dismal, private sector officials yesterday said.

And while overall 2018 seems to have more benefits for the private sector than last year, the country’s masses would not benefit directly from them, the business community believes.

“It was a good discussion where we discussed it at length and saw some putting forward some very passionate views on many issues but there are a lot of areas of concern,” Head of the Private Sector Commission, Eddie Boyer yesterday told Stabroek News, following a post-budget meeting of private sector bodies.

He said that he did not want to go into the details of the discussions, which had participants from the Guyana Manufacturing and Services Association, the Private Sector Commission, respective Georgetown, Berbice, Lethem and Essequibo chambers of industries and others, as it was determined that one umbrella statement will be issued sometime today.

Eddie Boyer

However, Stabroek News spoke to some officials at yesterday’s meeting with most expressing disappointment at the APNU+AFC’s proposed 2018 revenues and spending.

Because of the commitment to have one umbrella statement they all asked to speak on condition of anonymity but said that after today all members were free to give their individual positions on measures of the budget.

“Looking at the 23 measures of Budget 2018 we all want government to show us how all these dreamy plans will be realized. How are we dealing with unemployment and especially youth unemployment? I thought the minister would have given us some areas of creativity for employment. We didn’t see that. You have to focus on youth and give them hope, give them something tangible, let them know that you will spend X on a programme and in the end they will have skills Y, from that skill Y they will get job X anywhere they choose. Give them sound training that they become their own income earners and don’t look for a career in the public sector making $75,000 a month and their rent is $55,000. God give them something to look to. The question was asked about job creation and in the last budget Go-Invest said it was creating these jobs. But job creation is a line item and nothing more,” a private sector official told Stabroek News following the meeting.

“You speak of the good life and green state but tell us what are you doing specifically that would see these things in actuality. Does the average man know of the Green State plan? What does it have that would benefit them and how can they contribute to us getting there… The economy has slowed down and some of us were looking for something dynamic. We did not get that. There is a lot of money in taxes taken out, put it in back where you can get more development,” the source added.

Another official informed that at the meeting, of about sixteen persons, some had seeming political agendas to push.

“So many things were said by everyone like my head spinning to remember. But what I can tell you is that you had the politics in those discussions; those who didn’t want to offend or are friends of the government and those who are friends or aligned with the opposition and would not listen to anything else but what the opposition has said on a matter. You know you have to call a spade a spade and in this case there are sound measures for the private sector and some for the public sector,” the official said.

“You say the 40% VAT on pinewood it may sound bad but is good in a way because it will help to get your own lumber dealers to raise their standards and some people who deal in lumber want to eat off your head. You say that the removal of the VAT on education deserves no praise because it was the very government that issued it and you can hear shouts across the room,” he added.

“It was a very mixed signal budget. VAT on education and the reduction of the tributor’s tax it is something we compliment the government for but wasn’t it the very government that implemented those things? It was under their watch and it was only because of the strong condemnation that they removed the education VAT…they take off taxes from travel but your other allowances gone and big salary earners will get taxed much more. All that is going to come out. ,” the official posited.

Further, he added, “The VAT on electricity is a concern that they did not take any consideration and you had the same amount of protest, though not taking to the streets and that kind of thing, but the same reaction from citizens. Everybody, I am sure was waiting to hear if it will be taken off. The Private Sector believed it should have been because the manufacturing sector needs cheap and reliable power if it is to develop. This has been years’ long cry and nothing is being done to address this. Rice also was not given the attention it should have although it was said that it is making a comeback. The cost per acreage is still too high and I felt that the minister should have paid some more attention to an industry that is showing such good promise. Now as for sugar, I think we collectively felt that there is a definite attempt to divest the estates.

The official said that the issue of unemployment has to also be looked at when addressing the sugar sector as nearly 11,000 persons stand to lose their jobs if estates proposed are divested.

He advised that monies be set aside to train the persons who would be cut so that they can find jobs in other sectors.

And while another official of another private sector organization said that he will hold his criticisms until he has personally analyzed it, from what he has listened to and has read the budget seems “on the right track” and is “setting the foundation for the growth to come”.

“People will take excerpts and twist it to suit their own purposes…from what I heard and have read, (Finance Minister Winston) Jordan seems to have a plan and is on the right track. It is not easy to plan a budget that has even the Opposition Leader not coming out with very solid criticisms. It seems like they are setting the foundation for the growth to come, possibly from oil revenues,” the official said.

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