One of the most anticipated budgets in the last two decades will be presented by the Minister with responsibility for Finance, the Honourable Dr. Ashni Singh, on Friday, February 12th. Among those sitting in the Government front benches will be the Vice-President of Guyana, the Honourable Bharrat Jagdeo, who served between 1994 and 1999 as Guyana’s Finance Minister, the most successful Finance Minister in Guyana’s history. His performance as Guyana’s Minister of Finance propelled him to becoming one of the world’s youngest Heads of State. Thousands of persons will be watching the proceedings in Parliament on Friday as Dr. Ashni Singh continues to show why he, too, has been a Finance Minister that has established such a high bar that Ministers of Finance around the world can aspire for.
There is great expectations and excitement for Budget 2021, from ordinary citizens, from public servants, from the private sector, from investors, from workers in both the public service and the private sector, from pensioners, from young mothers, from families with chronic diseases and families with children in schools, from university students, from farmers and miners. Budget 2021 is expected to begin the transformation of Guyana’s infrastructure, and the projects in Budget 2021, once completed, will change the physical face of Guyana, once the first term of the Dr. Irfaan Ali-government comes to an end. People are filled with great expectations and confidence, but no one is certain exactly what “goodies” Budget 2021 will bring, although everyone is certain there will be many “goodies”. That is why people are eagerly awaiting Minister Ashni Singh’s reading of Budget 2021 on Friday. While there is uncertainty about what “goodies” will be in the budget, every one is certain there is no new taxation or other burdens. Moreover, no one is sitting with any reservation and fear about Budget 2021.
PPP budgets in the past or present provide no reason for people to be concerned. PPP budgets are always anticipated. As Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo promised, Budget 2021, like previous PPP budgets, will be “pro-poor” and “pro-business”. This is in direct contrast with budgets presented by the People’s National Congress (PNC), including during the 2015-to-2020 period, when they disguised themselves as APNU+AFC. PNC budgets created great anxiety and concerns, and stressed out citizens. It invariably contained increases of, or new taxes. This was true for ordinary public servants, for businesses, for miners etc. When the new PNC Government took over in 2015, some had hoped their policy of tax-and-spend would come to an end. But in the five years between 2015 and 2020, they proved that a tiger cannot change its stripes, it’s embedded in its DNA. Just as they did between 1964 and 1992, the PNC Government, which called itself APNU+AFC, between 2015 and 2020, introduced over 200 new taxes that affected every sector in the country.
So great was the stress PNC budgets caused in the past that people gave them names. As a youth growing up in the PNC days, I remember not only the stress among citizens, I remember people gave names to the PNC budgets. There were names like “pick-pocket” budget, “choke-and-rob”, “voodoo”, “empty rice pot” budgets. There were some even vulgar names that I will not list here. Besides new taxes, there were always other stressful things. After 1985, invariably, budgets had devaluations. Guyana dollar plummeted in value. Prices soared. But, especially between 1968 and 1980, there were many things people valued that were banned. Common food items, like milk, flour, dhall, sardines and other staples were banned. The assault on the lives of ordinary citizens was brutal, and every single PNC budget left people reeling, left people with less and less.
The upcoming Budget 2021 is likely to include benefits and further entitlements for Guyanese citizens. The Guyanese people are expecting to see benefits for school children, an increase in the cash grants for school children, a resumption of the one-lap-top per family programme, increases and other benefits for pensioners, for university students, investments in housing, water, electricity, hospitals and schools.
Budget 2021 will include major infrastructure projects, such as bridges like the Demerara River and Corentyne River bridges, new highways, new drainage and irrigation structures. Businesses expect incentives for investment and manufacturing.
One particular area that people are anticipating is the investment in housing. It is expected that major housing developments in various regions of the country would accelerate home ownership. The Government had promised 50,000 house lots in this term. In the truncated 2020 period, the PPP distributed more than 3,000 house lots. Even ardent detractors of the PPP Government now believe that the 50,000 house lots’ promise is realistic.
As the Guyanese people wait for Budget 2021, one of the sure things in it is: there will be enough projects to create thousands of new jobs. In the end, budgets are supposed to create jobs for people. While I am like most citizens, unaware of which “goodies” will be in Budget 2021, I am confident that after the budget is read on Friday, the Guyanese people will have myriad reasons to smile. Happy Budget 2021 Day on Friday.