The Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Guyana (FITUG) could not fail to offer a response to some of the “achievements” Minister of Finance Winston Jordan boasted about in his letter which appeared in the October 9 edition of Stabroek News. The Finance Minister said “…our government has reduced the Value Added Tax (VAT), from 16% to 14%; reduced Personal Income Tax, from 30% to 28%; increased the tax threshold from $600,000 to $720,000 or 1/3rd of gross income (whichever is higher)…”.
While the Honourable Minister, seemingly, blows his own trumpet, FITUG could not ignore the duplicity in the Minister’s statements. While the Minister speaks about reducing the rate of VAT, the collection of VAT has gone up by 25 per cent in his tenure. Today, our working people must contend with paying VAT on water, electricity, private healthcare and other previously exempt goods and services. In the same vein, the touted adjustments to the income tax regime mean very little when we recognise that income tax receipts have increased by 31 per cent under Minister Jordan’s leadership at the Ministry of Finance. During Minister Jordan’s sojourn, so far, Government tax revenues went up by roughly $35B, most of which are paid by the workers, directly or indirectly. Let us not forget too that a significant chunk of those increased tax revenues went to propping up the State’s bureaucracy.
The Minister, in his letter, speaks about increases in salaries while he seeks, apparently, to deflect from the large increases in pay and perks, he and his colleagues benefitted from. But, we ask, how meaningful are those increases when the prices of food have steadily increased; when the reluctance to adjust the excise tax on fuel has seen workers having to find thousands more per month for transportation; when workers have to find several thousand more per year to pay their water bills; when the looming property re-valuation could very well see them paying higher rates and taxes; among the several other burdens workers have to contend with nowadays? To borrow a popular phrase, the Minister “talk half and lef half”.
The Minister speaks too about the papers and reports his Ministry has prepared. While they must be applauded for those feats, at the same time, the Ministry has ceased for some months now, at least publicly, publishing the Monthly Economic Bulletin and there has been no additional unemployment survey beyond the inaugural edition. The Minister also refers to the 4.5 per cent growth rate recorded for the first half of 2018. But, we ask again, are the fruits of that growth reaching the ordinary man and woman? From our interactions with workers, they are hard-pressed and at their wits end in making ends meet. Certainly, the rosy picture painted is far from the cold reality on the ground.
The FITUG is pleased that the Minister took time to offer a defense to what has been an otherwise uninspiring performance. Today, we urge that he approach his mandate with similar fervour as he does his letter-writing. This may very well help us to turn away from the precipice that is slowly but steadily approaching.