As the five days of debate on the government’s proposed $267.1 billion national budget for 2018 drew to a close yesterday, both Finance Minister Winston Jordan and Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo sought to debunk claims by the opposition that there is in it “nothing for the ordinary man.”
Jordan, who closed the debate in the National Assembly last evening, stressed that under the proposed measures “everyone will benefit” and added that regardless of the criticism his government will perform its duties.
“We are not afraid of criticism,” he said before noting that the state of the sugar industry is a national problem which requires a national solution.
A majority of the opposition parliamentarians had criticised government on it decisions to lay off thousands of sugar workers and close estates that had traditionally supported several communities.
Jordan noted that while sugar has been a mainstay of the country for quite a while, it is going through its pains right now. “I wouldn’t say its last breath, but it is going through a lot of pain. At best, what we could try to do is ease the pain,” he told the House.
The minister stressed that structural adjustment of this kind, which has happened in Linden in the bauxite industry and Pittsburg when steel industry went under, is difficult.
“I would not stand here and claim that life will be all hunky dory after,” he told the House event as he reminded that the former government was aware of issues for over a decade.
“How long ago did the European Union say the protocol life was coming to the end…? We stubbornly thought we could buck the horse and so invested in the factory at Skeldon. A lot of borrowing took place to build Skeldon; over US$125 million was borrowed plus amounts invest by GuySuCo and not a penny is being met by GuySuCo, it is being paid by the taxpayers,” Jordan said.
He stressed that this is one of literally hundreds of dead projects left for this government to clean up.
He added that GuySuCo along with two local banks also loaned money to farmers. One bank gave out 546 loans, all of which are non-performing, while the other gave out over 800 loans, which are also non-performing. “As long as these farmers owe the bank, they are doomed,” he said, while referring to the level of non-performing domestic loans as a legacy of Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo.
Two of the biggest areas where there are non-performing loans are housing and the agriculture, and specifically rice and sugar, the minister stressed.
Meanwhile, Nagamootoo also stressed that the proposed budget has something for everyone.
“This budget has social content. It is rooted in communities. It is rooted in our schools and our medical facilities, in our institutions that provide security for our nation. It is rooted in all the requests made by our people on the coast and in the interior for attention to their needs,” he noted, while supporting his position by referencing several projects which are to be implemented across the country.
The minister showed up with one of several public education posters printed by the Department of Public Information, which he referenced to support his arguments.
“It couldn’t be there is nothing for the people of Sophia who would benefit from $144 million for a drop-in-centre. It couldn’t be that no one would benefit in the rice cultivation sector, with 14 new pumps that will be able to irrigate 50,000 acres of rice lands. It couldn’t be that the young people of this country wouldn’t benefit from the $1.7 billion for youth programmes, $600 million for medical equipment, $160 million to rehabilitate Vreed-en-Hoop and Stabroek stellings… the commuters and vendors will not benefit. It couldn’t be that no one will benefit from the additional $6.3 billion that will go in support for GuySuCo, for the Sugar Industry in addition to the approximately $32 billion that had already been allocated by this government to the industry to help it to crawl out of its travail and to survive. It couldn’t be that no one will benefit from the Lethem Airstrip that would be upgraded to a Regional Hub or the $178 million to improve solid waste management,” Nagamootoo told the House.