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Letter: Bright spots in 2018 Budget too few and too far apart

The Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Guyana (FITUG) has considered the 2018 National Budget presented by Minister of Finance, Winston Jordan on November 27, 2017. The Federation was expressly disappointed to conclude that the Budget largely failed to live up to the high expectations of the working-people who looked forward to measures that would have lessened the burdens they are made to fetch now-a-days. Such expectations, undoubtedly, were heightened by the cheery, colourful billboards and the many advertisements that have appeared in the electronic media to promote the Budget.

At this time, too, the FITUG cannot also fail to express its deep regret that despite what we felt were fair and reasonable suggestions advanced to the Minister during the Budget consultations, just one was positively considered. We felt and still feel that our suggestions were realistic and reasonable. The shunning of our proposals, in our opinion, tells us, once more, a lot about the Government’s concern about the workers plight and the Administration’s seriousness in engaging the workers organisations. Though discouraging, we are not daunted and we will continue to promote our suggestions recognizing their importance in improving workers well-being and their standard-of-living. We must share too our vexation that a paltry $500 per month or $16 per day increase was given to the Old Aged Pensioners who clearly deserve a much more realistic increase, especially in these times. The FITUG believes it’s not too late for the Government to re-examine this matter with a view to finding a more acceptable sum to give our former workers.

The FITUG welcomes the decision to remove Value Added Tax (VAT) on Education and to grant tax-free status to leave passage allowances for employees in the private sector. While accepting both measures, we feel constrained to point out that those sums pale in comparison to the heavy costs the workers have borne arising from the widening of the VAT net and the significant increases in the costs in Government fees and services, among other things. We further noted the Minister’s announcement of the intention to re-value properties which will obviously lend to increased rates and taxes payable to municipalities and NDCs. Really, the working people today a lightening of their burdens not more economic pressures.

The FITUG, like the workers, were vexed also to learn that the Administration did not approve any improvements in the income tax threshold. It was something that many workers had eagerly looked forward to and something that they widely expected. While noting that workers who work during part of the year will benefit from the full year’s free pay, it is something that just a small number of workers would benefit from. Furthermore, it could be seen as discriminatory as those workers who work part of the year will have a lower effective rate of taxation than those who work for the entire year.

The Budget, disappointingly, did not advance any serious policy regarding job preservation and job creation, both critical matters at this time. Besides a few passing references about certain initiatives which unfortunately did not benefit from much explanation nothing more was said. Given the Government’s track record of implementation, it is difficult for us to place great faith and hope that the policies referred to will see the light of day in a quick manner. What is of concern too is the absence of any clear policy or direction to assist in hastening the implementation of the Public Sector Investment Programme (PSIP). The timely execution of the PSIP is in the interest of the working-people and the country as a whole and we cannot fail to express our alarm that the Administration has not seen it fit to have a clear direction set out.

Regarding the sugar industry, disconcertingly, the Administration, in our view, did not provide any roadmap to the thousands of workers who stand to be affected by the miniaturization plans. This is both unfortunate and disturbing. While FITUG contends that there is no need to cut down the industry, the Government nevertheless is duty bound to address the fallout from their ill-considered plans that would have serious repercussions for the workers, the sugar communities, state agencies such as the NIS and GRA, foreign exchange earnings, and the effects on the business community, among other things.

Also despite the heavy touting of the Oil and Gas industry, FITUG was disturbed to note that very little was mentioned especially given the significant impact the Government says that industry will make. Of particular concern, was the absence of any clear and definitive statements on the Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF). The monies that would be deposited into the SWF belong to all Guyanese today and tomorrow and, therefore, a prudential framework is necessary for its operation. Similarly, engagements and agreements between the Government and the various oil explorers should be known to Guyanese as it is the people who ultimately benefit from the income and will bear the costs.

On the energy front, the FITUG recognizes that seemingly the Amalia Falls project has been abandoned despite the compelling arguments for it to be pursued. Despite a commitment to Green Development, we recognize that future power generation is to be predicated largely on natural gas. Such endeavour cannot fall into the ‘Green’ framework, unless possibly the intention is to paint the plant in the colour green. For our organization, though Guyana is blessed with an opportunity to deliver power from renewable resources, it is upsetting that we continue to engage, largely, in power generation from non-renewable resources which input price we may not be able to influence.

The FITUG reiterates that the Budget styled the “People’s Budget” by the Department of Public Information (DPI) has failed to live up to that expectation. Though accepting there were some marginal improvements, the pressures, difficulties and challenges by the workers remains, regrettably, largely the same. While the Minister tells us the “The Journey to the Good Life continues” for the workers they see themselves not on the same boat though they wish to be. We recall Prime Minister, Moses Nagamootoo in his column which appeared in the November 26, Guyana Chronicle advancing the notion that the 2018 Budget will be a ‘grass roots’ budget. Unfortunately, the proof is in the pudding and the ordinary people remain downtrodden and sliding into a state of despondency.

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