Business Minister Dominic Gaskin yesterday called the government’s proposed 2018 national budget people-focused, while asserting that it pays attention to the needs of the man-in-the-street.
“It tells him that he is relevant and that when money is being spent by this government, he or she is going to be [the] beneficiary,” Gaskin told the National Assembly during his presentation on the $267.1 billion budget.
He gave the example of the allowance of the minimum personal income of $720,000 per year, regardless of whether a person works for the full year or not. The tax deducted by the employer and the revenue authority is to be refunded to those employees whose income did not reach $720,000.
Gaskin said he was of the opinion that this measure will help persons who are laid off and are unable to find another job in the short-term to at least get back some of the taxes they paid while they were working.
“Of course, they will have to file their tax returns to claim this allowance but it still provides some relief for persons who have not been working and encourages the filing of tax returns,” the minister said. “This measure speaks to the ordinary man and woman and lets them know that our government is fair and considerate and wants the best for them,” he added.
He also listed the removal of the Value-Added Tax on low-cost housing units below $6.5 million as another measure that identifies with the man-in-the-street and he said that not only will it benefit a handful of people but it will bring relief to those looking to invest in a home of their own and who may not have the wherewithal to qualify for a bigger loan.
Another measure connecting with the ordinary people, according to Gaskin, is the concessions provided to employers who provide day care services to their employees, which he described as another step towards reducing the burden on parents, especially mothers, to arrange affordable and convenient day-care of their young children. “These are all clear commitments to ordinary Guyanese people who are looking to enjoy their share of the ‘good life,’” he noted.
Gaskin said also that the budget addresses the needs of the private sector and builds on previous budgets presented by the government and will renew private sector confidence in the economy.
All the private sector bodies have expressed some concerns over the budget.
The minister pointed out there are number of measures that will benefit the forestry sector, which are intended to support value-added forestry production in Guyana. He described this as an excellent start in addressing some of the sector specific challenges that have prevented Guyana from adding value to its natural resources for so long.
The tourism sector will also benefit from concessions granted on vehicles used by licenced tourism operators in the hinterland areas and also on buses used to transport tourists. He described these measures as demonstrating his government’s understanding of the needs of the country’s growing industry and its willingness to invest in the sector.
The planned amnesty for taxpayers who have not filed returns, according to Gaskin, will encourage more businesses to file their returns and pay their taxes. He said this all forms part of the business-friendly measures aimed at improving private sector performance.
He also talked up the planned Electronic Single Window System for trade, for which $10 million has been allocated in the budget, to fund the preparatory work for the implementation across government agencies. The total cost of the project is $1.2 billion and it is being funded through an Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) loan. The new system will result in persons receiving their licences and getting their permits, their approvals and clearances through a single electronic window and they will no longer have to submit the same information to ten different agencies and have them sequentially processed.
Gaskin noted that his ministry has started surveys for the development of a Business Confidence Index. He said surveys have already been conducted in regions Six and Ten and are ongoing in other regions. The index, he said, is intended as a tool to identify the level of optimism or pessimism in the economy and to propose evidence-based policies for enhancing the ease of doing business.
$23B in investments
Gaskin also used his presentation to give an overview of what his ministry has accomplished over the past year.
Among other things, he noted that the import and export licences processed and approved over the last year have increased by 20%. He further noted that 98% of the 4,545 licences issued as of the end of November were processed within 24 hours.
He said this is up from 89% in 2016 and it is expected to go up in 2018 with a target of 99%.
Gaskin also noted that his ministry has collaborated with local chambers of commerce in Lethem and Mahdia to establish business registration hubs, so that persons can now register their business in those towns instead of travelling to Suddie as they were previously forced to do.
He also mentioned that Go-Invest has seen close to 1,000 visitors looking to do business in Guyana over the past year and has provided them with the necessary information and guidance. According to the minister, 19 investment agreements were executed, with three of those being public sector projects with proposed job creation for 122 persons, while the remaining 16 were private sector investments with proposed job creation for 850 persons.
The total value of those investments was $23 billion and as of the end of October there were eight applications waiting to be processed, while there were also 43 applications for land, he noted.
Gaskin said too that the Small Business Bureau has provided some 40 loans to the tune of US$758,753 and another 132 grants valued at US$170,923 were also disbursed. The bureau also launched its in-school entrepreneurship programme, where 100 grants of $30,000 each were disbursed to students in 15 schools around Guyana. The project is aimed at helping Fourth Form and Fifth Form-level business students fund their School-Based Assessment projects and try to turn them into real investment projects. Another 68 grants, valued at US$1500 each, were disbursed by the bureau on behalf of the Ministry of Public Security in the execution of the Youth Entrepreneurship Programme.