According to press reports Mr. Khemraj Ramjattan, Chairman of the Alliance For Change and the leader of its parliamentary contingent, has indicated that the AFC intends to vote for the reduction of allocations to various agencies. One objective is to reduce the number of contact employees. The total sum being cut amounts to $3.8B.
To fully appreciate the full magnitude of the cuts the astonishing details need to be set out. Under the Ministry of Tourism, Industry and Commerce the following cuts are being proposed: the National Bureau of Standards from $119M to $62M, the Guyana National Conference Centre from $12M to $3M, Tourism Development from $5.3M to $3M, the Consumer Protection Commission from $91M to $31M, the Competitiveness Programme from $235M to $220M, and Industrial Development from $50M to $25M.
Under the Ministry of Housing the following reductions in allocations are proposed: the Community Roads Improvement Project from $1.4B to $905M, Infrastructure Development and Building Programme from 41.9B to $990M, the Georgetown Sanitary Improvement Project from $503M to $335M.
For the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture the allocation for the National Sports Commission is to be reduced from $451M to $200.
This plot is unraveling as the APNU, realizing the potential devastating impact on the employed, has abstained from supporting at least one reduction. It is one thing for the Opposition to level wild and unsubstantiated criticism at the Government. It is another to craft constructive policies to deal with the problems they perceive.
The objective of the proposed cuts appears to be to reduce the number of contract employees which the Opposition has repeatedly criticized. During the Budget debate of 2011 the Minister of the Public Service, Dr. Jennifer Westford, in response to the same criticisms, outlined Government policy in relation to placing workers on contract. The Minister emphasized that it is the choice of the employee whether to go on the fixed establishment or to go on contract. Further, the vast majority of contract employees earn modest salaries. It is clear that instead of eschewing the high degree of suspicion with which Government statements are treated and analyzing and verifying the Minister’s report to the National Assembly, the Opposition and Mr. Ramjattan and the AFC in particular, have recklessly chosen to disbelieve it.
The consequence of this sloppy political strategy is that the AFC will face a public relations disaster. These across the board cuts will not necessarily affect those allegedly earning super salaries or the alleged cronies of the Government. But they can and will affect hundreds, perhaps thousands, of regular employees earning modest salaries who will lose their jobs if the cuts are supported. Many of them might well have voted for the AFC which obtained 10 percent of the support of the electorate, or 1 vote in 10. Among the hundreds of families whose bread will be snatched from their tables by this ill-considered AFC move will be many who voted for the AFC.
The cuts, if made, will not merely affect modestly paid contract workers. The effect of their enforced dismissal will wreck wide-ranging havoc and devastation to very important programmes which are vital for the development of the economy. Programmes which aid the development process, infrastructure, help to build adequate systems and lay the groundwork for growth in the economy will have to be cancelled because of inadequate staff.
In a press conference held on Wednesday April 19 the AFC sought to quell some of the uproar caused by their proposals. Mr. Ramjattan and Mr. Nagamootoo sought to convince the public that their cuts are intended to focus only on the elimination of the highly paid contract workers. But the AFC’s weapon is blunt. It will indiscriminately weed out the so-called highly paid as well as the lower paid. It has no capacity to distinguish. Even if a few of the higher paid are laid off there can be no doubt that it is the lower paid who will feel the major burden of the AFC’s proposals.
Public spending is a tool of development. Creatively deployed, it is a vital aid to the development process. Once public funds are directed to development projects, as in this case to tourism development, industrial development, community roads, infrastructure development, sanitary improvement and sports among others and it is well spent, the economy improves, the country grows and employment is created. The creation of employment is the fastest way to reduce poverty. What could have prompted the AFC to embark on this course is not known. It could well have been misled by its own demonization of the Government and rather than devising policies after proper study, it follows its own propaganda and ends up with flawed or inadequate policies.
The demonstrations on Wednesday April 19 by Government workers, however much it may be claimed by sections of the press and the Opposition that it was Government inspired, ought to have convinced the leadership of the AFC that it policy of cuts is misguided. It is surprising that leaders like Ramjattan and Nagamootoo who have come out of a progressive political environment could have so gullibly embraced a conservative, or rather neo-conservative, ideology sweeping North America and Europe of cuts in public spending which is devastating economies in the developed world. Wholesale cuts in public spending, unless carefully designed, harms countries rather than helps.
At the time of writing, it appears, thankfully, that these unwise and hastily concocted reductions in the estimates will not proceed as APNU, despite its criticisms of the Budget, has seen the daylight. It is surprising that the AFC came up with these half-baked proposals having at its disposal Dr. Tarron Khemraj, a credible economist. But maybe accountant Sasanarine Singh advised them.