The goose is getting fatter but the most vulnerable ‒ our poor, our women, our youths and our unemployed ‒ in our society have not been adequately addressed in the 2018 Budget. They have never even begun the ‘good life’ so how can they ‘continue the journey’? The 2018 Budget is now 267.1 billion dollars, more than a 20.5% increase over the 2016 Budget and 7.1% over the 2017 Budget. In his presentation our Finance Minister seemed to be in a haste to get to the juicy aspects of the Budget ‒ the huge allocations which would mask his inability to deal with stimulating the economy and job creation.
While the 2018 Budget is 7.1% more than last year, the old age pensioners get a paltry 2.6% increase from $19,000 to $19,500, while the Public Assistance beneficiaries get an increase of 6.6%, moving from $7,500 to $8,000. It must be noted that these increases are the smallest ever, despite the promise by this government to give significant increases. The only areas where there were significant salary increases were in relation to their own, which ballooned by over 50% in 2015 after just a few months in government and despite complaining that there was no money in the Treasury.
The PPP government was giving up to two thousand dollars or more increases in some instances to the old age pensioners, with free water and electricity. This went a long way to ensure that old age pensioners could have afforded to upkeep their homes. It is becoming increasingly clear that these people will be unable to keep their property and must will it prematurely to their children. This will make them even more vulnerable and at the mercy of their children in some cases. The ‘fat cats’ in Government continue to enjoy their super salaries and other tax free benefits while the poor and needy are now being thrown two loaves of bread.
What is even more significant is the fact that more and more workers are being driven into unemployment, especially in the sugar belt, while thousands of young people are joining the unemployment lines having graduated from high schools and the University of Guyana. This will get worse by next year since the 2018 Budget has little to offer in terms of job creation.
The Budget speaks about youths attaining “the skill-set training that is required for the job market” and the investment of $1.7 billion towards this; however, how many job opportunities are there to accommodate these youths? How many of them will become entrepreneurs involved in salt fish processing, block making, lemon grass planting and harvesting, cash crop farming, chicken and pig rearing, food preservation, catering and hospitality? The number of youths benefiting from these will definitely represent only just a small fraction of those unemployed. The sum of $1.7 billion is just not sufficiently significant to take care of the thousands of unemployed youths. The Minister has failed miserably in addressing this endemic problem.
What is even more appalling is the fact that thousands of sugar workers will be unable to even send their children to school, so while $41.9 billion will be spent on education some children will be unable to access it. The PPP/C government was giving each child a cash grant of $10,000 and this was expected to increase to $20,000 in 2015. This should be reintroduced to assist these poor parents to send their children to school. While the 5Bs initiative is laudable, the $10,000 cash grant should be reintroduced. It should have never been taken away.
In conclusion, a big Budget without investments to generate revenue, create jobs and take care of the poor and needy is wasteful spending, especially when corruption comes in to play ‒ the sole sourcing, the awarding of tenders, the certification of works and the drawbacks and the kickbacks. When all of these are taken into consideration it will be seen that the ‘fat cats’ will get fatter and the value for money from the $267.1 billion Budget will dissipate into thin air. The ‘fat cats’ journey to a good life will definitely continue!