The American statesman Henry Kissinger once pointed out: “If you don’t know where you are going, every road will get you nowhere.” He was making the point that in life, as in national affairs, clear objectives must be stated before formulating strategies, policies, and actions. In presenting the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) Administration’s first Budget, Dr Ashni Singh not only spelled out his government’s objectives but placed them within their overarching goal for the entire nation.
He noted: “His Excellency, President Irfaan Ali in his inaugural address to this National Assembly spoke of the keyword of his Government being “oneness”, and he outlined his vision for One Guyana”. But the President made more than an aspirational statement. He launched a “One Guyana Commission” under the direction of PM Mark Phillips, who will be tabling the enabling legislation. Subsequently, the President launched a “Corridor of Unity” on the East Coast of Demerara, connecting the villages of Lusignan, Enterprise, Buxton, Foulis and Golden Grove. It is recognised by all Guyanese, including those across the political divide, that it is this lack of unity among our people that has been the single greatest obstacle to sustained progress.
With this in mind, the Finance Minister explained: “In keeping with His Excellency’s vision, Budget 2021 seeks to achieve the following objectives for all Guyanese:
i. Navigating COVID-19 for as long as it is around, keeping our population safe, containing further spread, treating those who are infected, providing vaccines as soon as they become available, and reopening the economy progressively and then fully when it is safe to do so;
ii. Ensuring a diversified and resilient productive sector, by facilitating large-scale private investment in both traditional and new and emerging sectors creating 50,000 jobs in the next five years, and promoting entrepreneurship at the medium and small business level;
iii. Initiating investment in catalytic and transformative infrastructure, including energy infrastructure to ensure adequate supply at competitive cost, and transport infrastructure to improve international connectivity and unleash domestic production and productivity;
iv. Establishing world-class social services such as education and health care, so that these services are available to the domestic population, but also with a view to entering the international market for providing these services to a regional and global clientele;
v. Improving the quality of public services and creating a conducive environment for doing business and interacting with Government, including by deploying technology-based solutions, as well as reducing bureaucracy and red tape; and
vi. Ensuring respect for the Constitution and the rule of law, maintaining good governance, safeguarding access to justice, and the preservation of a safe and secure environment for all Guyanese and visitors to Guyana.
With these objectives in mind, this budget: (i) ensures we recover as a country both from 2020 and from the last five years of trauma; (ii) puts in place the policies needed to catalyse rapid economic growth in the near and medium term; and (iii) lays the foundation needed to ensure that that growth is not transitory but is sustainable for the longer term. Budget 2021 is, therefore, presented under the theme “A Path to Recovery, Economic Dynamism and Resilience.”
But Dr Singh was not oblivious to the challenge presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. In his preamble, he noted, “2021 will not be an easy year. COVID-19 is still with us, and the need to keep our people safe and to keep the economy alive is still very present. While we have already started administering vaccines, the speed of uptake and the time until herd immunity is achieved are still huge unknowns.”
But the Budget did provide $750 million for securing enough vaccines to supplement the quantities that will be provided through grants that should vaccinate the 80 per cent of the populace needed to provide herd immunity by the end of the year. It was, therefore, surprising that former People’s National Congress (PNC) Minister of Finance, Winston Jordan bemoaned the lack of a plan to bring us out of COVID-19.