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OPINION: National Budget: from the perspective of the struggling, it is paltry and punishing

Last Updated on Thursday, 27 January 2022, 21:46 by Writer

by GHK Lall

The national budget is now out in the public for the people to review the pluses and minuses, the excitements, and disappointments. Purely from the perspective of those lower on the ladder in Guyana, it is an abomination, one more hope shattered.

I speak mostly on behalf of the expectant poor, the struggling, back-to-the-wall working class of Guyana, the suffering masses out there. This national budget just unveiled cannot be described as anything other than a major letdown. For sure, there are some morsels in it for them, but those are so paltry (in Guyanese parlance ‘maaagah’) as to mean nothing. The provisions for those at the bottom or close to it are insulting, and this in a country where the talk is of one of the highest, if not the highest, GDP in the world. I agree that that is not immediately translatable into overnight riches for besieged Guyanese, but any relief for the poor and weak and vulnerable citizens in our midst has to have some substance, some semblance of care and compassion. I regret to say that those two kindnesses have fled this land, at least from the side of the thinkers and planners in this PPPC Government. There was nothing generous or considerate in this year’s budget for the shorthanded; they have been shortchanged by the President, Vice President, and the Minister of whatever he is, the one who did the presentation. It is callous.

Callous that the income tax exemption is raised by a mere $10,000 or $120,000 annualized. I don’t think that that makes much of a difference. It would have been fair and balanced, and considerate, too, to deliver an exemption representing an increase of at least $25,000 monthly, or $300,000 annually. There is a difference-maker and one that casts a wider net, a level closer to a beefed-up exemption closer to $1,250,000 annually would have been more acceptable. Regarding those in their silver years, pensioners, that $3,000 monthly increase is another insult heaped upon a section of Guyanese (some 10% of the population) who could use any helping hand they are able to grab. I thought that if $10,000 monthly was too high in one leap, then $5,000 would make the cut. Clearly, the PPPC Government searched long, and looked hard, for ways to kick then stick it to those Guyanese who are down and almost out.

There was talk of cost-of-living ease, compliments of a vigilant and neighborly government that is there in a time of stress, and if monthly farmers’ markets are the best that the PPPC Government can come up with, its leaders and driving forces should hang their heads in shame, except that they have none left. Somehow, monthly markets sound to me like those KSI (Knowledge Sharing Institute) concoctions that Burnham came up with, and created quite a stir. Removing hustling, possibly exploiting ‘middlemen’ with mystery mechanisms and new men conveys to me replacing one pack of schemers and gougers with another, maybe one more affiliated and controlled, and empowered to do their own obscene dances before needy Guyanese.

If the PPPC Government and its leaders are sincere about spiraling cost of living pressures, don’t demean the Guyanese people further, look for ways to offer them genuine eases that register with them, where such count, as in the pocket and a little more to spend; forget about saving, just to spend and get by. Like a reasonable reduction in VAT, to nothing above 10%. Like a greater increase in the excise tax on gasoline than what was offered. Like a larger child education credit, or a six-figure deduction for each child. And these are just a start. This is what matches the projections of being a nation with the highest GDP in the world. Whoever came up with these so-called relief measures for the smaller man and woman, and their dependents, should be hanged in effigy, and then publicly drawn and quartered.

There are preparations for withdrawals from the oil fund, with the groundwork laid, which are more akin to raids. The word from ranking government spokespeople was that borrowings will be reduced as a consequence, then it was of additional borrowings. Surely, a little more could have been earmarked for those not in the private sector, not among the connected cronies, not found where the big money, the bulk of the budget spending, will take place. No less a person than Guyana Hon. Vice President alerted last week of visions for infrastructure and ICT. I say that is good, but the people can’t put those in the pot, or pay the market vendors with that, or pay the minibus operators with bitumen and routers and motherboards. Of course, when the billions are smartly expended in those sectors for schools and roads and clinics (and airports and bridges, too), then there is the perfect camouflage to continue the criminalities long perpetrated here, but only on a more massive, unprecedented, and unimaginable scale. If oil fund money in tandem with borrowings are enough to make bankers drool all over themselves, then it does not demand much wisdom to appreciate what both do for crooked politicians and their cohorts in the public service and private sector. The layouts from oil fund and loans taken are sure to make them go into uncontrolled frenzies, given the visions of what could happen.

This is from the perspective of those well-positioned private sector fat cats grinning in anticipation and licking their lips, who I have barely touched. On the other hand, the outlook of poor, financially handicapped Guyanese, on whom I have focused, this national budget must quality as an unparalleled disaster, no less than one which intensifies their disappointments and humiliations, and adds to their ongoing agonies.