Home Letters Finance Minister has failed Guyanese miserably
It is quite evident that as the Finance Minister’s budget speech gets longer, the budgets get bigger but the ‘good life’ promise becomes equally illusive! But I will just focus on the deliverables to the Agriculture sector where it can be seen that a decrease in budgetary allocation has precipitated a drastic decline of the sector.
In 2015 the theme of the Budget was ‘A Fresh Approach to a Good Life in A Green Economy’ and the growth of the economy fell to 3.2 per cent from 3.8 per cent in 2014.The agriculture sector grew by only 3.1 per cent relative to a growth of 7.2 per cent in 2014. Sugar output increased by 6.9 per cent to 231,145 tonnes and rice production increased by 8.3 per cent to 687,784 tonnes. The Ministry of Agriculture’s budgetary allocation was $20.894 billion. It is clear that the agriculture sector was receiving the dividends from investments in 2014.
In 2016 the theme attempted to excuse the poor performance in 2015, it became ‘Stimulating Growth, Restoring Confidence: the Good Life Beckons’. However, the $230 billion Budget failed to do any ‘stimulation’’; ‘confidence’ dwindled and the ‘good life’ became an empty echo! The growth of the economy was an imperceptible 3.3 per cent relative to the 3.2 per cent in 2015. The projected growth was 4.4 per cent. The budgetary allocation for the agriculture sector continues to get lesser and the effects were manifested in the decline of this sector. The agriculture sector (including sugar processing and rice milling) experienced a contraction of 12.1 per cent relative to 3.1 per cent growth in 2015. Sugar output decreased by 20.7 per cent to 183,400 tonnes and rice output fell by 22.3 per cent to 534,450 tonnes.
In 2017 the theme was “Building a Diversified, Green Economy: Delivering the Good Life to All Guyanese”. Again, the Budget failed on all three counts as it became crystal clear that the themes have become platitudes which no one pays attention to. It increased to $250 billion. In this year the Guyanese economy was projected to grow by 3.8 per cent. The Finance Minister boasted that, ‘Budget 2017 is designed to consolidate the gains we have made since our accession to Office, improve economic performance, and define a sustainable pathway to the happiness and prosperity of Guyana’. This never happened! Guyana’s economic growth contracted to an all-time low of 2.1 per cent. The Minister’s empty boasts have, by now, become a regular embarrassment to the coalition Government. The agriculture sector experienced a marginal increase of 0.4 per cent while sugar output decreased by 25.2 per cent to 137,307 tonnes and rice output increased by 17.9 per cent to 630,104 tonnes which was still below the 2015 production of 687,784 tonnes.
In 2018, the Finance became tired of the repetitive insipidity of his own budget so he simply stated the theme as ‘The Journey to the Good Life Continues’! It became an irrefutable conclusion that this journey had not yet begun for the masses but continued for those in the coalition Government. The National Budget was even bigger and the Minister’s budget speech was longer and more political in nature, it grew to $267 billion. The half-year growth of the economy was 4.5 per cent but the Finance Minister had predicted that the end of year growth would be around 3.4 per cent. However, given his ‘great’ prognostic ability we expected this to be lower, probably closer to the 3 per cent mark! The budgetary allocation for the agriculture sector was just a meager $16.8 billion and the sector was expected to grow by 1.1 per cent over the 0.4 per cent growth the previous year. In 2014 this sector grew by 7.4 per cent. In 2018 sugar production will decline to an all-time low of 98,000 tonnes and rice production is expected to be around 640,000 tonnes, still unable to surpass the 2015 production of 687,784 tonnes. It must be noted that rice production was on an upward trajectory during the PPP/C’s tenure in Government. In 2014 it had climbed to 635,238 tonnes!
What is important to note is that in all these years of the coalition Government in office, the ‘improvements’ are always calculated from the poor performance in the preceding year! In 2014 the economic growth was 3.8 per cent and the growth in the agriculture sector was 7.4 per cent. This has fallen to 3.4 per cent and 1.1 per cent respectively in 2018 with bigger contractions in 2015, 2016 and 2017. It is indicative that the economy has never fully regained the progress made during the previous Government’s tenure in office.
Mr Jordan once again bragged that Budget 2019 among other things is aimed ‘to support the development of the non-oil sector’ yet he again failed to allocate a substantial sum to the Agriculture sector as he seemed to be oblivious of the ‘oil curse’ present all around us. The 2019 Budget is a humongous $300.7 billion but the agriculture budgetary allocation is a paltry $17 billion. This is not short-sightedness, it is blindness! It is clear that former Minister Leslie Ramsammy’s statement is factual, that the Agriculture Sector is now an impoverished orphan!
In the Minister’s 2019 Budget speech, his theme again resounded and regurgitated the platitudes of the previous presentations – ‘Transforming the Economy, Empowering People, Building Sustainable Communities for the Good Life’. His ‘lubrication’ and ‘stimulation’ lacked intent, purpose and aggressiveness even though oil is expected in abundance! I wish to humbly submit Mr Jordan that you have had over three years to do what you now promised to do, and you have failed the Guyanese people miserably. Can the Guyanese people now believe you when with each passing year their standard of living is eroded? I think not!