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Finance Minister lashes out at Private Sector for requesting concessions; PSC, unions want urgent meeting to refine budget

Finance Minister, Winston Jordan on Friday declared that he does not believe in granting concessions, but instead prefers to lower taxes over a period of time.

Wrapping up the National Assembly’s debate on the GYD$250 billion budget for 2017, Jordan said he has long told the Private Sector Commission (PSC) that they should not go to him for concessions. He lashed out at the umbrella business organisation just hours after the PSC, Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Guyana and the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) called for a meeting to amicably resolve concerns about several areas of the budget. “”We the undersigned stand ready to meet with you at mutual convenience within the next few days, notably before the National Assembly goes into committees to fine-tune the Budget.”

The Finance Minister, visibly frustrated, said, “everybody wants a concession but nobody is bringing numbers to convince you, the Minister of Finance, that you should be getting those concessions.”  “And when you don’t get the concession,” he continued, “you complain that you didn’t get it.”

Jordan complained that once concessions are given, it is difficult to take them back. He said he explained to the Private Sector that he does not believe in concessions, and will not be granting any. “I want a tax code that is uniformed and uniformly applied,” the Finance Minister continued, adding that the PSC asked for concessions they didn’t even know they had already. Even when concessions are given, he continued, the poor consumers can’t see it.

They include those that have been provided by the then People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPPC)-administration for investors planning to set up businesses in places such as Region 10.

Jordan identified Barbadian businessman, Sir Kyffin Simpson, who has set up a mega-farm in the Rupununi, southern Guyana without concessions and has been producing large amounts of rice. He noted that Sir Kyffin’s operations generates its own electricity and all he has asked for is more land to expand operations into cattle rearing.

Sir Kyffin, he said, should be given a national award by Guyana for his entrepreneurial drive in this country.

He recalled that while the budget was being read last week, a large group of investors from Trinidad and Tobago, and Suriname were in Guyana in search of opportunities.

The Finance Minister called for partnership saying there needs to be a paradigm shift from the Private Sector Commission. Jordan said he neither met with the PSC, which postponed on multiple occasions, nor the opposition People’s Progressive Party Civic, which refused to meet.

The PSC, GTUC and FITUG, in their joint letter to House Speaker, Dr Barton Scotland; Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo; Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo and all others government and opposition parliamentarians say they are worried about environmental and mining taxes as well as the negative impact of adjustments to the Value Added Tax (VAT) on health care, education, electricity water and Internet.

Those non-governmental stakeholders noted that while Old Age Pensions have increased by 45 percent in the last 18 months, the removal of subsidies on water and electricity would affect that vulnerable group as far as essential services are concerned. Government has said more than 100,000 Guyanese do not consume more than GYD$1,500 in water and GYD$10,000 in electricity monthly.

The business and trade union organisations also want government to halt plans to garnish monies from the bank accounts of persons who owe Income Taxes to government. “We urge a stay on this Act pending further consultation and deliberation. The strong view is held this is unnecessary based on existing powers and rights of collection. Correspondingly, it is the view that it is important to have the contention resolved,” they said.