MP after MP from the Opposition have sniped, moaned, griped, grumbled and nagged about one thing after another even at this early stage in the debate over Budget 2023. Guyanese already have recognized the incompetence and the cluelessness of the Opposition in Parliament. Between their presentations in Parliament and the written and oral presentations outside of Parliament, the Opposition speakers and their sycophants have succeeded in only one thing – they have consolidated the perception all across Guyana that they are out of their depth, clueless and confused, and with no genuine alternative to the Government’s Budget 2023. This is an open call, an open challenge, to the Leader of the Opposition and his MPs in Parliament – and to the surrogates in the newspapers, radio and TV – please answer the questions posed in this column simply; we want no “ifs and buts”.
They complained that Budget 2023 is too large, and that the Government should not be boasting about the “biggest budget ever”. They complained that the “biggest budget ever” will accelerate inflation in Guyana because of all the money being put in people’s hands. At the same time, they gripe that the increases in pension, the “Because We Care” cash grant, people’s salaries, part-time jobs etc., ought to have been larger. Can they then tell us what in Budget 2023 must be cut? One could always argue that pension, salary increases, cash grants etc. must be bigger. It is a debate that we are certain occurred at Cabinet level itself. But responsible governments ensure that there is a balance in spending. The President is on record that pension must grow rapidly.
The mathematics is easy. Now, we all know that one of the deficits of the Opposition is an incapacity for mathematics. If the budget is too large, as the Opposition claims, but the Government must put more money into salaries and safety-net programmes, what should be cut? The Opposition should stop griping and make that recommendation. Should the Government cut the MoH budget or the MoE budget, or public security, or housing, or water? We are not looking for any kind of intellectual journey, we are simply looking for them to identify programmes, projects or activities they would want the Government to cut so as to “downsize” Budget 2023.
Opposition MPs, one after the other, keep harping on the $136B allocated for infrastructure development in Guyana. According to them, the allocation is nothing but a slush fund for the President and his Ministers to pass through donors and friends’ pockets and for the ministers to enrich themselves. Here is the open challenge to the Opposition: Please tell the nation which of the projects the Government should eliminate from the budget? Let them tell the nation which project they believe is not necessary at this time. Should the Government eliminate the Demerara River Bridge from the infrastructure transformation programme? This is a project that the PPP started before 2015. For five years, between 2015 and 2020, the PNC-led APNU/AFC Government dilly-dallied and wasted more than $200M in feasibility studies and never moved the process from where it was in 2014. Even as the debate rages on, the construction of the bridge has started. Should the Government eliminate the Linden-to-Mabura Road construction that started from Budget 2023? That is another project that the then APNU/AFC allowed to slip. Should we defer the Corentyne Bridge project or the Gas-to-Shore project?
More than 1,200 community streets are listed for construction. Can the Opposition MPs stand in Parliament and let the nation know which ones of these roads they would like to see removed from the budget? In 2023, construction of more than a dozen hospitals will begin. This include hospitals in #75 Village (Region 6), Bath (Region 5), Enmore (Region 4), Diamond (Region 4), De Kinderen (Region 3), Anna Regina (Region 4), Moruca (Region 1), Kamarang (Region 7), Kato (Region 8), and Lethem (Region 10). In addition, Linden Hospital will be upgraded. Work will begin on the redevelopment of New Amsterdam, Georgetown, Bartica, West Demerara, Mabaruma, Mahdia hospitals. Which of these infrastructure projects would the Opposition want removed from Budget 2023?
The Opposition MPs argue that the “biggest budget ever” is not because of the PPP. They claim it is OIL money. But the OIL money in Budget 2023 is only $200B. Even as they insist that Budget 2023 is funded by OIL money, they also, in the same breath, moan about the amount of loans. They argue on the one hand that OIL money is funding Budget 2023, and then, immediately after, argue that the Government is funding the budget via a splurge on loans. Examination of Budget 2023 shows that loans amount to $168B, or 21% of the budget. They argue that it is reckless to borrow. The Opposition MPs must tell us which ones of the projects in Budget 2023 supported by one of the loans they want us to remove.
Budget 2023 is a milestone budget. It sets the stage for the total transformation of Guyana. The infrastructure investments are critical for transforming our country. We cannot simply take OIL money and split it among us. We must invest it in the physical and economic infrastructure, in the social welfare infrastructure. We must gradually catch up with CARICOM countries in terms of salaries and wages. The Government is on the right track. The Opposition must either put up or shut up.