$781.9B Budget 2023 passed in National Assembly

– Govt, Opposition MPs underscore need to work together

Finance Minister, Dr Ashni Singh

Without any changes, the National Assembly on Thursday afternoon approved the whopping $781.9 billion 2023 Budget – the first to be financed in part by revenues earned from Guyana’s historic carbon credit sale agreement.
Senior Finance Minister, Dr Ashni Singh had presented the National Budget on January 16, 2023, after which both sides of the National Assembly participated in five days of debate last week. On Monday, the House transformed itself into the Committee of Supply and during the following four days, the Opposition Members of Parliament (MPs) meticulously examined the estimates and posed questions to Government Ministers on various line items under each sector and Ministry, providing an opportunity for the public to get a better understanding of what is in the Budget.
This process concluded on Thursday when the National Assembly passed Budget 2023 which, according to the Finance Ministry, is historic in the sense that not only does it impose no new taxes but it is the first budget to be partially financed from monies earned through the sale of Guyana’s carbon credits to United States oil major Hess Corporation, which paid its first instalment to the tune of US$75 million in December last.
Two more payments of US$37.5 million each will bring the total amount appropriated in this year’s National Budget to US$150 million.
The US$750 million deal will run up to 2030 and has placed Guyana on the world stage as the first country to receive such a payment for its carbon credits, which were the first to be certified by the Architecture for REDD+ Transactions Environmental Excellence Standard (ART-TREES) mechanism.
In addition, Budget 2023 will also benefit, for the second year, from withdrawals from the Natural Resource Fund (NRF) of US$1 billion this year, equivalent to G$208.9 billion to finance developmental priorities. The NRF, an overseas account, holds all of Guyana’s direct earnings from oil production activities ongoing in the Stabroek Block offshore.
During his presentation last month, Minister Singh noted that this year’s National Budget would strike a balance between addressing the pressing needs and irritants of today, while simultaneously investing in the future. This is reflected in the theme of Budget 2023: “Improving Lives Today, Building Prosperity for Tomorrow.”
Consequently, a number of transformational projects are included in the budget for critical projects across the agriculture, education, health and infrastructure sectors.
As the Government remains committed to working towards achieving the vision of world-class standards of education and health care, Budget 2023 allocates $84.9 billion for the health sector and $94.4 billion for the education sector to ensure that the country’s young people are prepared for the future. Importantly, within these sums, there is an allocation of $13.1 billion to advance work on the paediatric and maternal hospital, and six regional hospitals at Lima, De Kinderen, Diamond, Enmore, Bath and No 75 Village, as well as $12.4 billion to improve educational infrastructure countrywide.

This year’s Budget also includes a number of large projects that will transform the energy supply in the country including provisions for the construction of an integrated natural gas liquids plant and a 300 Megawatt (MW) combined cycle gas turbine power plant within the Wales Development Zone.
Other large infrastructural projects include provisions for the upgrading and widening of the Corentyne Highway from Palmyra to Crabwood Creek, with a sum of $27.7 billion allocated in Budget 2023; upgrading of the East Coast Railway Embankment road into a four-lane highway from Sheriff Street to Orange Nassau, continuing to the Mahaica River bridge, continuing of the upgrade of the East Coast Highway from Belfield to Orange Nassau and constructing a second bridge across the Hope Canal, with $16.6 billion allocated in Budget 2023; constructing the East Coast-East Bank road link from Ogle to Eccles (first phase of a four-lane highway intended ultimately to link the East Coast of Demerara and the Linden-Soesdyke Highway), with $10.3 billion allocated in Budget 2023; and, constructing the new Demerara River bridge, the first high-span, four-lane permanent hybrid concrete and cable-stayed structure, with $5.2 billion allocated in Budget 2023 to advance works.
Meanwhile, among the key measures in Budget 2023 are an increase in the income tax threshold from $75,000 to $85,000 monthly releasing a total of $3.3 billion into the hands of taxpayers and removing 12,000 taxpayers from the tax net; increasing Government “Because We Care” cash grant from $25,000 to $35,000 to benefit over 214,000 schoolchildren in public and private schools; easing the cost of living through maintaining zero excise taxes on fuel to absorb volatile fuel prices; expansion of Government’s part-time job programme, with a budget of $10 billion; supporting the vulnerable through an increase in old-age pension from $28,000 to $33,000 monthly; an increase in public assistance from $14,000 to $16,000 monthly; and an increase in the low-income mortgage ceiling from $15 million to $20 million, reducing the cost of borrowing within this range from commercial banks and further incentivising home ownership.
This is added to the salary adjustments announced by President Dr Irfaan Ali last year that are benefiting more than 5000 healthcare workers and another 9000 members of the Disciplined Services from this year, amounting to an additional $3 billion in disposable income.
Meanwhile, upon the passage of the Budget 2023 in the National Assembly on Thursday afternoon, praises were sung of all the public servants who contributed to the compiling of the budget especially staff at the Finance Ministry by the subject Minister and Prime Minister Mark Phillips.
While the staff of the Parliament Office was also lauded for ensuring the smooth flow of the process, the MPs from both sides were similarly hailed for their contributions. However, the Opposition MPs were singled out for their “intense and informed” scrutiny of the Budget estimates by the Speaker of the National Assembly, Manzoor Nadir.
According to the Leader of the Alliance For Change (AFC) – the minority partner of the APNU/AFC parliamentary Opposition – Khemraj Ramjattan, the Opposition MPs utilised their learning from previous years to showcase their capacity to get beyond the figures.
“It means that we are learning and those young ones that we have are learning… All that you might have seen from our side is but a necessary, normal course routine. We have no hatred for those Members of the Government… And the peace that Mr [Home Affairs Minister Robeson] Benn indicated would be supported by every member of the Opposition,” he asserted.
Similar sentiments were expressed by Opposition Chief Whip Christopher Jones, who lauded the improvement of the Opposition’s interrogation of the Budget Estimates. He also echoed the need for both sides of the House to continue working together in the interest of the nation – something which he says requires all the parliamentarians to make an effort.
On the other hand, Government’s Chief Whip, Minister Gail Teixeira said the two sides have to learn to work together and agree to disagree. She described the budgetary process in the National Assembly this year as one of the better experiences, and hoped it laid the foundation for further collaboration in 2023.
Meanwhile, Deputy Speaker and representative of the Joinder List in the National Assembly, Lenox Shuman challenged his fellow MPs to be better representatives of the people. Shuman, who is the Leader of the Liberty and Justice Party – one of three parties that form the Joinder List to take up one seat on the Opposition side, is slated to vacate his seat and make way for another representative to serve.