Bringing the curtains down on week-long debates on Budget 2024, Senior Minister within the Office of the President with responsibility for Finance and Public Service Dr Ashni Singh on Friday informed the National Assembly that a typical Guyanese household was robbed of approximately $9 million in five years as a direct result of the burdensome policies and initiatives imposed by the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change administration, despite its leaders promising citizens of a better life for all during the then campaign trail.
“You understand why y’all sitting down over deh,” Minister Singh remarked, as he defended the $1.146 trillion Budget 2024: Staying the Course: Building Prosperity for All.
Painting a vivid picture of the sorry state of affairs of the lives of a typical Guyanese household under the APNU/AFC, Minister Singh gave the example of a wife employed as a government medical officer, living with her husband, a police inspector, and her parents; her mother, a principal assistant secretary and her pensioner father; and three children.
“The family took a loan to buy this house and they were benefiting from mortgage interest relief…the young couple was also planning to buy a motorcar…three of them have degrees from the University of Guyana…”
When the APNU+AFC came into government in 2015, Dr Singh outlined, they would have taken away the policeman’s one-month tax free bonus, the contract gratuity for the medical officer and the principal assistant secretary as well as their salaries in lieu of leave, the cash grant for the three children, put on back VAT on electricity and water.
“…because the meter’s in the father’s name, he lives upstairs and he owns the house, they take away the mortgage interest relief, so they now no longer benefit…”
“The police inspector over that five-year period lost $545,570 (at 2015 salaries),” Minister Singh outlined, reminding it would realistically be more since salaries did increase gradually over the years.
“The contract gratuity and the salary in lieu of leave that was taken away from the GMO comes up to $4 million…and for the mother, the gratuity and the salary in lieu of leave that was taken away from her, came up to $3 million…the cash grant for the three children over the five-year period came up to $150,000…the VAT on electricity and water over the five-year period cost then an additional $70,560 and the reduction of the ceiling on the mortgage interest relief…resulted in an additional tax bill or less tax relief of $132,000.
“When you add those figures up, this ordinary Guyanese family…all of us know families like that…APNU+AFC over that five-year period, took away from that very ordinary Guyanese family a grand total of $9,093,040. You know what it is to take away $9 million from a family?”
Singh also urged Guyanese not to forget how the APNU+AFC government criminalised over 17,000 ordinary Guyanese who took out student loans to pursue higher education at the University of Guyana (UG), embarrassing them by publishing their names in the press and even threatening to blacklist them from travelling.
“Mr Figueira, Mr Devin Sears, and Mr Jaipersaud, you know what your party, which you are being asked to represent, did?”
“The lists were published to embarrass people, to embarrass 17,000 ordinary Guyanese!”He also reminded that “…Mr Norton’s party planned to cause 17,567 ordinary Guyanese graduates of the University of Guyana to have their names placed at the ports of entries and exits in Guyana…so they cannot leave Guyana because they owe a student loan.”
“I know people personally who were terrified by this! Traumatised! Who went to the bank to take a loan to pay off their student loans because they frighten!”
This, he reminded, was the case while “they paying for themselves to study all over the world”.
In contrast, Minister Singh proudly expressed that the PPP will write off student loans.These juxtapositions, the finance minister detailed, are important for the public to understand the fundamental differences between the APNU+AFC and the Peoples Progressive Party Civic (PPP/C), especially when considering the points each side made during the budget debates.
“So when we come to debate Budget 2024, which deliberately is consistent with a path we have charted, a path that was define by the manifesto that we presented to the people of the country when we were going to the election, that comprise the promises that we were making to the people of Guyana, that we are now delivering to the people of Guyana; whether it be the highways on the East Bank or the East Coast, whether it be the schools in the hinterland or on the coast…we are very clear about what we will do.”
“…they can’t tek it…the Honourable Member Annette Ferugson, she can’t can’t understand how she went back to that side of the House so quickly!”
“We live in an age where people are better informed than at any other time in our country’s history. Gone are the days when an APNU+AFC politician can spin some yarn about how badly they love the public servants. They know you! They know what you did to them!”
Minister Singh further reminded of the many failures of the APNU+AFC in government, including over 200 taxes they imposed on the citizenry, their devastation of the sugar industry and other productive sectors, their removal of the ‘Because We Care Cash’ grant, and even their failed Green State Development Strategy (GSDS) which, he highlighted, was funded with $400 million in taxpayers’ monies but yet did not generate anything for the country.
This, he compared with the visionary Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS) which had generated US$250 million while the new LCDS 2030 has already earned the country a whopping US$750 million.
“The APNU/AFC’s [GSDS] did not even earn Guyana GY$5,” Minister Singh remarked.He went on to scoff at the fact that this very group of leaders had 23 years in opposition to come up with precise and workable plans on how to take Guyana and its people forward, and yet, after less than one term in government, they were booted out.
“…And Mr Norton puffed up his chest and said ‘we are offering ourselves to the people of Guyana as an alternative government’,” Minister Singh jeered, contending that the APNU+AFC have proven time and again to be intellectually bankrupt.
“The APNU+AFC is very talented with lofty-sounding words and ideas, plans and strategies, green paper and white paper and every other colour paper…,” he expressed, arguing that when it comes down to what matters, the party has no real plan for the development of the country and its people.
Minister Singh pointed out that even Region Ten (Upper Demerara-Berbice) – considered the APNU+AFC’s stronghold – was not spared from the broken promises and lofty plans for development.
“In 2015, they promised the people of Region Ten…to create a strategic development plan for Region Ten. Mind you, they love Lindeners, they talking to Lindeners and consulting with Lindeners every day, they claim to know Linden and Region Ten, but after 23 years of waiting to come into government…they said to the people of Linden, because ‘we don’t know specifically what is needed in Linden and Region Ten’, so we will create a strategic development plan for Region Ten.”
“Where is the development plan?” Minister Singh quizzed.
He also reminded that the APNU+AFC said they would have rescued and modernised the bauxite industry, but instead, “they presided over a situation that resulted in the ultimate departure of an international investor in the Berbice River, producing bauxite, ensuring that the Berbice River remains well-dredged, ensuring that more than 1000 families have an income, Linden families, Ituni families, Kwakwani families, and they come here today and say they love the bauxite workers.”
“Where are the results of your efforts to rescue and modernise the bauxite industry?”The finance minister also reminded that the APNU+AFC said they will create new jobs in Region Ten but they closed the call centre in town, leaving scores of young people jobless.
In stark contrast, the PPP government has, within the past three years, deilvered on its promises to the people in a clear and consistent manner and according to Minister Singh, the government will continue to do so in the years to come.
Meanwhile, noting that the PPP-aligned parliamentarians have done excellently in defending their respective sectors during the budget debate, the finance minister reaffirmed that Budget 2024 is for all Guyanese.
In fact, he pointed out that today, opportunities abound in every sector and for every Guyanese.
“It doesn’t matter what profession you are in, more of your goods and services are needed. It doesn’t matter what you are producing, we need more to be produced. Whether you’re a truck driver, or a pumpkin farmer, whether you have a logistics company or a security company, whether you are doing engineering or fabrication or food preparation and catering. It doesn’t matter what business you are in, opportunities abound, opportunities abound for all Guyanese!”
“Whether you are a painter or a mechanic, whether you’re a plumber or an electrician, whether you’re a heavy equipment operator or a taxi driver, there are more opportunities for Guyanese today to engage, not only in salaried employment but also in entrepreneurial opportunities.”