Finance Minister Winston Jordan was the final speaker for the budget 2017 debates, but before closing the debate, Jordan announced a $25,000 tax-free bonus for public servants earning less than $500,000 per month.
The bonus came as a surprise to many since there was little or no indication that such would happen. Jordan asked for Guyanese to remain calm as the government sets the pathway forward.
Minister Jordan dedicated most of his presentation to debunking many of the debating strategies and positions used for the past five days by the PPP’s members of parliament.
The Finance Minister also announced a $25,000 tax-free bonus for public servants earning les than $500,000.
Jordan, during the budget’s wrap-up presentation, ridiculed the PPP’s position that the 2017 budget’s 14% VAT would be added to pampers, play doh, and condoms. “VAT was already on condoms,” Jordan noted, “and freely distributed except for high-end ‘Rough Rider” referencing a well-known condom brand.
Turning his attention to Mr Jagdeo’s opulent lifestyle, Jordan questioned how the Opposition Leader could be deemed a man-of-the-people, when “he lives in the most palatial mansion in this country. When he lives on prime land bought at pepper-corn rates.” “How can he?” the Finance Minister questioned rhetorically.
As a former President, Jagdeo’s pension, according to Jordan, was raised 500% from 223,000 to $1.3M due to the Former Presidents’ Pension Act.
The Finance Minister said the law stipulates the former President’s pension is 7/8 of whatever salary a sitting-President is earning.
The current President’s salary, Jordan continued, gives Jagdeo $1.5M tax-free pension per month. “I’m not mentioning benefits here. I not touching benefits here, it’s in court. I only dealing with pension,” Jordan further noted.
Jordan observed that the salaries of former Presidents Jagdeo, Donald Ramotar, and Samuel Hinds amounts to some $54M in tax-free pension. “Three individuals per year are getting more than the total increase for 25 [government] ministers,” the Finance Minister bemoaned.
It is believed President David Granger would also benefit from this 7/8 pension arrangement when he demits office.
Finance Minister Jordan had difficulty with the position taken by Ram and McRae accountancy firm which submitted a budget review heavily criticising the 2017 budget.
According to Jordan, some of the budget’s recommendations follow recommendations made by a Tax Reform Committee including Christopher Ram who is a partner in Ram and McRae.
Those recommendations included raising the tax threshold from $10M to $12M for which the administration raised the threshold to $15M thus removing more people from the tax registration.
The committee had also recommended to water and electricity authorities conduct research on the average level of consumption per household, then apply VAT for bills that exceed the level of the average amount.
“When we did it now,” Jordan expressed passionately, “you hear the sky falling! Oh gawd! Pickpocket budget!”
Jordan said the reform committee recommended a restriction on importing motor vehicles over seven years. Government, adhering to the recommendation, placed a ban on vehicles older than eight years old as an environmentally-friendly measure.
Other tax recommendations from the Committee that were included in budget 2017 were travel tax increases at the Eugene Correia and Cheddi Jagan international airports.
These measures, he noted, would bring this country into the realm of a developed country. “With this budget, I am saying the awakening has begun,” Jordan continued saying his government must partner with stakeholders for the transformation of the economy.
“Through our agenda for a modern Guyana,” the Finance Minister noted, “we are acting to ameliorate the determinants for a stronger growth. Government will develop a development plan over the next 18 months to boost potential real growth and reduce his structural and youth unemployment.”
He anticipates this will see a reduction in energy cost. Jordan anticipates that the time for starting businesses ought to reduce within the next year through the use of technology to facilitate online processes thus removing bureaucratic hindrances which impact business in Guyana.
“We are creating the road to prosperity,” Jordan said, “and no one is going to take that away from us.” The Finance Minister said his government will continue to work for the people and not against the people since that is the only way to be re-elected for another term.