This Budget was a first
in many ways: for Minister in the Office of the President responsible
for Finance Mr. Saisnarine Kowlessar, first for the President Jagdeo’s
administration, the first to be presented with a woman presiding over
the sitting and the first for the century and indeed the millennium. It
was presented whilst the petition challenging the 1997 Elections is
making its way through the Courts, and as the country heads for another
elections based on the Herdmanston Agreement time table.
The year 2000 Budget
however had the fewest number of budget measures reported in a Budget
Speech since the introduction of the Economic Recovery Programme. If
those individuals, groups’ and organizations who participated in “the
dialogue and discussions, suggestions and recommendations were flattered
at having “ enriched the budget process”, they must be extremely
disappointed that their recommendations did bid not find favor with the
Minister for inclusion in the measures announced.
Except that it is a
tax-free budget in that there are no new taxes or fines it can not be
accused of being an “elections” budget. That it offers no new or
radical measures is either an indication that the current policies are
considered as effective or that the Government felt constrained about
its capacity and freedom to act outside of the tried path.
Minister Kowlessar is the
first Minister in post-independent Guyana, indeed in the post
self-government era to have presented a Budget without the full
authority of a Finance Minister. His predecessor now President Jagdeo
had the benefit of understudying the experienced Asgar Ally for three
years. On the other hand Minister Kowlessar was plucked from the
Turkeyen Campus of the University of Guyana to preside over the day to
day administration of the Ministry of Finance which saw a number of key
staff transferred to the Office of the President. This did not allow
Minister Kowlessar to stamp his authority on his first Budget.
Despite the return to
growth the economy is still not buoyant and badly needs a boost
-investment, incentives and encouragement. The personal allowance, last
changed in 1997 and eroded by inflation needed review.
In the 1 hour 35 minute
Speech there was in fact only one genuine budget measure - the wage
increase for public servants. No new taxes is almost becoming a virtue -
it is as though taxation is no longer considered as an important
instrument of economic policy.
Again this year there was
no acknowledgement to the work being done on the NDS, when it would be
ready and what would be its role in the future direction of the economy.
Every Guyanese must have been hoping for reassurances on the exchange
rate, a vision for the country and investments so badly needed to
Labour participation and
unemployment appear to be taboo in budget speeches and our women must be
particularly disappointed at not having warranted a mention in the
entire speech two weeks after the country observed International Women’s
So dependent has Guyana
become on the Multilateral Financial Institutions that Guyanese would be
forgiven for believing that an IMF-directed and controlled economy is a
permanent situation. We are left to wonder for how much longer we will
have to follow IMF prescriptions which President Jagdeo only recently
had cause to criticize as posing “impractical conditionalities.”
It is now almost accepted
that the Budget is presented to the National Assembly only a few days
short of the constitutionally set deadline. To present a Budget three
months into the year reduces its usefulness and the Minister should have
offered some explanation for this continuing tardiness.
Overall there appears to
be declining interest if not apathy among the populace in the annual
budget. Neither the Stabroek News nor the Government-owned Chronicle
contained any reference to the Budget in their Sunday or Budget day
issue. The time must be fast approaching when we will have to consider
whether we should not be considering abolishing this annual exercise
The cornerstone of the
economic management is stability and longer term planning. The sensible
running of the nation’s finance requires daily housekeeping and what
is now parceled into the national Budget does not have to be there at
all. Many of the measures which are saved up to make the annual Budget
Speech worthy of the attention which the National Assembly still accords
it are routine affairs.
Whatever its shortcomings - and there are
not a few - it would be uncharitable to hold the new Minister
responsible for them. The institutional arrangements for his effective
functioning are just not present.