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PPP’s budget talk dismays Finance Minister

PPP General Secretary, Clement Rohee.

by Zena Henry

Finance Minister Winston Jordan is somewhat appalled by statements from the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) following his invitation to the opposition for their input into the 2015 budget.

PPP General Secretary Clement Rohee told media operatives Monday July 27 that the party had provided to the government its recommendations for the 2015 budget and demanded that it upholds the coalition’s 100-day campaign promises. The PPP also offered ideas from its election manifesto.

During the budget consultation, Rohee said his delegation was informed, when asked, that a three month budget would be laid in the National Assembly by mid-August that would enable a three percent economic growth and concentrate on aggregated demands.

The GS said when government responded to questions on the 100 day plan, “the Minister advised that there will not be a 20 percent increase in salary for public servants… and that there will be no reduction of the Value Added Tax (VAT).” To address what they think are important areas, the PPP made several suggestions to address the ailing sugar, rice and mining sectors.

However Minister Jordan has denied the PPP’s claim, saying that it was the “classic” behaviour of the PPP to misrepresent what was said. He clarified that the PPP was never told of a three month budget, but rather that three months would remain by the time the budget is passed by the National Assembly. He said that he was at the time talking about limited spending because of the three month duration of this fiscal period.

Jordan said he never told Rohee about a 20 percent pay increase, but it was the PPP General Secretary who asked about such a pay hike “and I asked him where he got 20 percent from.” The minister said that no definite pay increase was ever mentioned since “the reduction, – as was mentioned before- is based on the country’s financial position, no definite figure was ever given.”

In relation to the 16 percent Value Added Taxc (VAT), Jordan said that the opposition was informed that given the short period, that tax would not be addressed in the 2015 budget, especially since a “Tax Reform Committee” is to be established to conduct a  “comprehensive review of all taxes.” He said Rohee was also informed about government’s reluctance to “tamper” with taxes pointing to the cloud cover this creates on foreign investor possibility.

He said the PPP was informed nonetheless that “most” of the 100-day plan would be implemented and others in time, particularly those requiring the actively restrained PPP- opposition.

Jordan said the PPP was invited also to the discussion for their views and ideas they wanted forward in 2016. He said he asked the PPP also to make such meetings regular, not just at budget time so that there is a continuous relationship between the two sides.

He said the PPP representatives were more concerned about “witch hunting” than the matter at hand. He said the party was asked to walk with documentation of their suggestions, but didn’t. He said however that what they finally submitted proved “not only useless, but they had nothing new to offer,” from that of the government’s manifesto.

Jordan slammed the opposition for its misinformation. He said, “The government has kept their promise of continuous engagements with the opposition, but they seem not to be receptive,” he added.

The budget talk was the first official meeting of the two sides since the May 11,2015 General Election which the 23-year ruling PPP claimed was rigged. They have not endorsed the government and ignored questions on this when asked again on Monday. For the opposition the current administration is a “de facto” government.