On Monday last, Guyanese across Guyana – regardless of where they live, what political party they support, what economic group they belong to; workers and business people; trade unions and NGOs – everyone in Guyana was stuck to a radio, TV, or following on Facebook and other social media postings the presentation of Budget 2023 by Minister Ashni Kumar Singh.
Budget 2023 was one of the most anticipated budgets in our history. Not a single group, not a single person in this country, was nervous or fearful. Everyone knew before Budget Day that Budget 2023 would not have anything in it that would place burdens on them.
Reasonable people know there is always something more that some people would have wanted. But we all knew also that there would be something for every person in Budget 2023. By now the presentation is in our history books. Last year, Minister Singh spent more than six hours making his presentation. Guyanese across the board would have predicted that Minister Singh would exceed that time in 2023. He did not disappoint.
Budget 2023 is pegged at $781.9B, a 41.3% increase over Budget 2022. The Health Sector budget is almost $85B. The Education budget is almost $95B. Not so long ago, budgets like Budget 2023 would have been unthinkable. Imagine the Health budget for 2023 is larger than the entire actual National Budget of 2000, which was a mere $47.6B. Compared to 2000, Budget 2023 is 43 times larger. In fact, the Health Sector budget for 2023 is almost twice as large as the entire National Budget of 2000. Indeed, the 2023 Education budget is more than twice the entire Budget for 2000. Clearly, Guyana is in another zone altogether.
The impressive thing about Budget 2023 is that it is people-centred. Raising the income tax threshold to $85,000 per month, or $1,020,000 annually, means that another 12,000 Guyanese workers have been removed from the income tax roll. The school children’s cash grant has been raised to $40,000 per child. Pensioners will now receive $33,000 per month. Public assistance monthly payments will now be $16,000. There are measures to improve working conditions for workers, support vehicle ownership, and support farmers and small businesses. Every citizen has something in Budget 2023.
The historical increase seen in Budget 2023 is driven by a phenomenal 62.3% growth in the economy. Guyana owns the world’s largest GDP growth rate for 2022, with no country even close to this. Imagine that the second-best GDP growth in Latin America and the Caribbean in 2022 was St. Vincent and the Grenadines at a distant 6%. While OIL is responsible for the phenomenal growth, even subtracting OIL’s contribution, Guyana’s economy grew at a rate larger than any other country in the world. This is testimony to the brilliant stewardship of Guyana’s development trajectory.
President Irfaan Ali, Vice-President Bharrat Jagdeo, and the PPP Government have worked with vision and competence. In spite of the naysayers, the PPP Government is steering Guyana rapidly to take our place firmly in the ranks of high-middle-income countries. The ambition of being a developed country in our lifetime is no longer a utopian dream. In fact, it is no longer a question of if, it is merely now a matter of when.
While virtually all Guyanese derive satisfaction that Budget 2023 positions Guyana on the pathway to transformation and prosperity, a handful of naysayers inevitably will find a way to find fault. The PNC (APNU/AFC) leaders and their MPs were visibly uncomfortable during the entire presentation of Budget 2023 on Monday. They knew beforehand that they would have a difficult time playing the “sour grapes” game.
The debate last year for Budget 2022 went down in our history books as one of the poorest debate performances from an Opposition in Guyana’s parliamentary history. The Opposition MPs, including its leader in Parliament and its shadow Minister of Finance, were so completely out of their depths that even their most ardent supporters were shaking their heads in shame and disgust. It is the hope of every Guyanese that the Opposition would come better prepared to debate Budget 2023. While Budget 2023 is a progressive budget, surely there are areas that might present alternative or additional options. Surely there are areas where more could be done, where Government expenditure might not be giving our citizens value for money. Government Ministers and MPs must come ready to justify their programmes.
Once the debates start, Opposition MPs, one after the other, will repeat like a parrot that the biggest budget ever means nothing. But when citizens like those who are disabled become automatically eligible to receive public assistance of $16,000 per month; when almost $60B is allocated to Housing, for more house lots’ development for new housing schemes; when almost $18B is allocated for water; when almost $59B is allocated for public safety and security, how could the biggest budget ever not matter? Yet, we can expect that the Opposition MPs, one after another, will try to dismiss the 41.3% increase in Budget 2023 as a gimmick. This is not a rebuttal; it is not what their supporters put them there for; it is not what they are paid for. The fact is that Budget 2023 affirms Guyana’s new place in Caricom and Latin America, and affirms that, truly, Guyana is on the up and up, firmly on the transformation pathway.