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Opposition unimpressed by $220B national budget

Minister of Finance Dr. Ashni Singh

Minister of Finance Dr. Ashni Singh on Monday presented a GUY$220B budget which the opposition almost immediately dubbed as uninspired.

Education was once again the largest recipient in the estimates with an allocation of $32.3B followed by health with $21.5B. Another $19.5B was earmarked for public safety and security and some $6.9B for the housing and water sectors.

And according to Dr. Singh, $1.8B would be allocated to “consolidate” the gains made in the justice sector.

Among the measures that attracted immediate opposition attention was a $6B allocation for the struggling Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo). The opposition parties had last year cut a similar allocation to the entity from the budget.

Another one sure to garner attention is a $3.7B allocation for Guyana Power and Light Inc. This is in addition to the $7.7B earmarked for the energy sector. Dr. Singh said the money was needed to support critical capital works in order to keep electricity tariffs down.

“This support will ultimately redound to the benefit of all 170,000 of GPL’s customers and their families,” the minister stated.

But Leader of the Opposition David Granger was uimpressed.

“It is basically a maintenance budget, it is not a development budget. It will not substantially affect the lives of the masses, particularly the poor people. I do not have faith that it can create jobs for our young people, I do not have any inkling that the measures there could relieve poverty,” he told reporters after the sitting ended.

According to the APNU Chairman, the country would be at the same level it was now when March 2015 rolled around. The finance minister did not announce any new taxes or tax reliefs.

On whether he foresaw any cuts to the budget as in previous years Granger said “Certainly allocations for sugar and power generation, we would want to see what is being provided so that the money is not wasted, we don’t want to throw good money after bad. Unless the sugar industry is reformed from the top down, I don’t see that we will be able to provide that amount of money.”  

The government had taken the opposition and Speaker of the National Assembly Raphael Trotman to court over the cutting of the previous two budgets and the court had ruled that the National Assembly did not have the power to do so. Acting Chief Justice Ian Chang had ruled that the House could either approve or reject the budget in its entirety.

The Speaker and the opposition parties have argued that the court had no say in determining how the Assembly carried out its functions but Trotman had urged that the respect for the court’s ruling be maintained and an appeal mounted if necessary.

The Alliance For Change was not in the House for the budget reading having departed prior to the minister’s presentation. It said in a statement released to the media that its action was in protest at the lack of meaningful consultation on the budget as was required by the Constitution.