In response to the People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR)-led A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) criticisms of Budget 2023, Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo has contended that the Opposition not only lacks understanding of the Government’s proposals but has not presented any proper analytic arguments on it.
The massive $781.9 billion Budget 2023 was presented by Finance Minister, Dr Ashni Singh on Monday to the National Assembly under the theme “Improving Lives Today; Building Prosperity for Tomorrow”.
Already, the Opposition has come out criticising the budget but according to VP Jagdeo, “I see a ton of clichés about the budget and nothing of analytical substance on the budget.”
He pointed out that unlike the PNC, which had made a mockery of development and showed that they are incapable of planning and executing a national development programme – both in the 2015 term in office as well as previously, the People’s Progressive Party/Civic has consistently produced sustained programmes to tackle key issues confronting citizens as well as the country.
In fact, he noted that Opposition Leader Aubrey Norton’s remarks that the budget contains nothing for workers are ironic since the PPP/C Government was able to grow the country’s employment costs – wages and salaries, by some $11 billion dollars in just two years compared to the five years under the previous APNU/AFC coalition regime.
Similarly, he dismissed the Opposition’s cry that the Government has failed to deliver on its manifesto promise of free university education. But the Vice President insisted that this will be achieved within Government’s five-year term, which has three more years to go.
However, he noted that statements like these are “irksome and irritating” coming from the Opposition, which not only raised the university fees by five per cent when they were in office but gave out a mere 1000 scholarships – most of which went to their families.
On the contrary, in just two years in Government, the PPP/C has given out nearly 12,000 scholarships. As a matter of fact, some $1.8 billion is budgeted this year for the GOAL Scholarship programme, which caters for 8555 new students and 1047 continuing students. This will add to the nearly 14,000 scholarships awarded since 2021, thus fulfilling the party’s manifesto promise of providing 20,000 online scholarships in five years.
“They did practically nothing [to advance the country or its people],” he stressed.
According to the Vice President who is also an economist, Budget 2023 deals with immediate issues such as increasing wages and salaries, pensions, and children’s grants.
He noted that too that $5 billion has been set aside to support the cost-of-living measures, while all the previous initiatives were taken to offset the burden of rising global prices remaining in place. These include zero excise tax for fuel, reduced freight charges as well as a part-time jobs programme.
Over 11,000 persons have already benefitted from the Government’s part-time job programme, which was rolled out in the second half of last year. So far, some $2.3 billion was placed in the hands of households in Regions 2, 3, 5, 6, 9 and 10.
Budget 2023 has proposed a whopping $10 billion to facilitate the extension of this initiative throughout this year.
“So, the budget has a ton of immediate support measures,” he stated.
On the other hand, VP Jagdeo pointed out that the budget is balanced with a host of major transformational projects that are set to get underway this year and will lay the foundation for Guyana’s infrastructural development that will benefit generations to come.
These include the new bridge across the Demerara River and the gas-to-shore project, which have received $5.2 billion and $43.3 billion, respectively, to start preliminary works.
“So if you go through the budget, you will see a combination of [immediate measures and] a serious element of preparation for that future too… It’s a carefully thought-out balance… We can’t only live for today in the country. We have to live for the future too. Everybody wants more of our country to expand, more jobs, people getting higher salaries, people having greater comfort,” he posited.
According to the Vice President, the PNC-led Opposition has a ‘hand-to-mouth economic philosophy’ which they want to apply to the budget but failed to see the benefits that these, and other, major projects will bring.
“It’s a budget that we put a lot of effort into and to have it disparaged… simply because of the lack of understanding or the lack of capacity to understand by the Opposition, where you have some mediocre kinds of presentations… You watch the debates; you will see it’s all about nit-picking around tiny issues without understanding the big picture. If they had understood the big picture, you wouldn’t have had these stupid comments.”
“This is not a serious Opposition… they are extremely mediocre… Everything will boil down to racism and discrimination in their speeches and they will miss all the benefits,” he asserted.