After a full week of debates, the National Assembly is now in the process of considering the estimates for the current and capital expenditures outlined in the $330 billion Emergency Budget brought by the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Administration mere weeks after it took office in early August.
As we had stated before, bringing a Budget in such a short period of time is quite commendable, considering the fact that normally undertaking such a task would take over three months. It meant, therefore, that from the time the new government was sworn in to office, it was engaged in working non-stop to understand what the country’s financial situation was at the time and plan for the remainder of the financial year.
As expected, the first day of the consideration of the estimates saw a high level of scrutiny from Opposition Members of the House, with both sides firing salvoes at each other.
Robust questioning is always welcome, and constructive criticism is a normal part of healthy democratic practices. However, one has to be careful that one does not criticise for criticising’s sake. It would be good for the Opposition to identify programmes included in the Budget that it could collaborate with the Government on and work together in ensuring they are successfully implemented, since at the end of the day, all Guyanese will benefit.
In essence, while the criticisms of the Budget have been noted, one also has to look at the positives. To say that there is nothing in the Budget for the ordinary man is an attempt to misrepresent the facts. We have seen huge sums being allocated towards housing and water, education, health, and agriculture among others.
The housing drive which the then PPP/C Government embarked upon prior to 2015 will recommence and will result in many Guyanese across the ethnic and political divide owning their own homes.
Further, the many development and infrastructure-related projects will not only benefit supporters of the ruling party, all Guyanese will benefit, in spite of race or political affiliation.
Additionally, a perusal of the Budget shows that there are several provisions aimed at bringing relief to families and giving a boost to businesses that have been squeezed over the past months. Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo had, in fact, quantified the money persons will save or receive is in the region of $20 billion.
One measure aimed at providing direct assistance to families is the $25,000 cash grant per household. Also, the old age pension will be increased to $25,000 per month. This is in addition to pensioners receiving free water, with the overall removal of Value Added Tax (VAT) on electricity and water.
When it comes to schoolchildren, the Government will be implementing, effective from January 1, 2020, a $15,000 cash grant for children and a further $4000 uniform voucher allowance. This assistance will greatly assist families to offset educational expenses, such as stationery and other items, especially considering the fact that some students will now be engaging in academic learning at home.
Further, tax concessions will be granted for persons operating in the mining, agriculture and forestry sectors. For years now, these sectors have been crying out for attention from the Government; many of the operators have had to downsize or close their operations altogether.
These are just some of the measures that were catered for in Budget 2020. From what we have seen so far, the economic policy of the Government has been very inclusive and well-thought-out. We are confident that once the Budget is passed, the economy will begin to show signs of a turnaround and this positive effect will trickle down to ordinary citizens.
Even though the figures in the Budget may sound abstract to some persons, the Government has ensured that every citizen benefits in some way. The naysayers will always have something negative to say about the Budget, but as Guyanese wanting to see the country move forward, it is necessary that citizens look beyond politics and play their part in ensuring that Guyana is made a better place for all citizens.
The Government must be applauded for taking immediate steps to provide assistance to families and in a broader sense, reverse the downward trend of the economy. Our hope is that a more mature approach will be adopted by Members of the House in confronting the developmental challenges of the nation.