A report on the cost of food for each sitting of Parliament, being $700,000, has triggered a particularly sharp debate about the cost and the alleged supply of alcohol. The Leader of the Opposition, Mr. Bharrat Jagdeo, confessed that he consumes the food. He said: “I eat the food. What do you suggest? I don’t eat the food? I eat the food…I like eating too. And it’s not like it’s fancy food. It’s not fancy food…” The problem the teetotaler Mr. Jagdeo said, confirming the traditionally austere leadership of the PPP, was the alcohol. “It’s not just the food. It’s the huge amount of alcohol that gets consumed and imbibed in Parliament…fancy, fancy, liquor.” Mr. Jagdeo noted that Opposition members would hardly ever, if at all, utilize alcohol provided by Parliament Office. “They do eat. We eat. I eat the food,” he emphasized, “..but it’s the alcohol part that I have a problem with.” But the politics intruded. Mr. Jagdeo suggested that it was some Government members who excessively imbibed during sittings. After suggesting that the cost of the alcohol might be as much as the cost of food, he recommended that members purchase their own alcohol.
If the Leader of the Opposition was concerned that MPs would be drunk on their feet or otherwise in Parliament, he should not worry. The public, viewing debates, would assume that MPs are drunk anyway – Government Members, with power, and Opposition Members, seeking it.
Guyana’s economy is declining. The growth rate fell this year and the projection for next year is modest. This means that the income of the Government has declined significantly and so has its ability to spend. Public expenditure is one of the two main props that keeps the economy ticking over and sustains employment, income and services. The othe is private investment.
In making decisions on the budget, the Government found itself between a rock and a hard place. It had to decide whether to reduce spending in proportion to its reduced income or sustain the same or a similar level of public spending as previously by raising funds by way of taxation and borrowing. It chose the latter course by imposing or increasing taxes on individuals and businesses. It has also increased the amount that it will borrow next year, eliminating any prospect of a decline in interest rates.
The President’s address to the National Assembly was disappointing. The expectation was that he would use the occasion to announce the Government’s legislative agenda wrapped around policy initiatives for the next parliamentary year. There was a modicum of this. But on the whole it was a political speech, long on political partisanship and short on the solutions to the grave problems facing the nation, which was more appropriate to a political platform. Whoever caused the serious problems facing the Guyanese people, relating to the economy, crime, to name a few, the Government now has ownership of them. The Guyanese people are looking to the Government to solve them, not excuses as to why they cannot be solved. They are frustrated at the increasing hardship and impatience is rising.
There is no evidence that the Government has attached any importance to itself investing in Guyana’s economy or encouraging others to do so. The Government announced at the end of August that ‘almost nine months into the year, less that 50 percent of the 2016 National Budget has thus far been spent.’ No serious explanation was given for this ‘unfavourable’ and ‘embarrassing’ situation. Since it does not appear to have happened before, the question arises as to whether the trained and competent staff under the past administration that had responsibility are still in place or have been removed or hounded out or have left of their own accord. These are stories that are being heard all the time, with some evidence.
The major concern for most Guyanese for the New Year is likely to be their economic wellbeing and the progress being made towards improvement of conditions for them and their families. 2015 resonated with excitement for supporters of APNU+AFC with the election of a new government after a decade and a half of corruption, arrogance and vindictiveness. Now that the dust is settling, eyes are being turned towards the promise of the ‘good life,’ which has not yet materialized. As one of my firm’s APNU supporting staff members told me a week ago without being prompted, reflecting a growing sentiment: “But, senior, I’m no better off. Things still bad.” And this is not for want of a far higher than average city salary.
Guyana’s economy should take centre stage early in the new year and this is not time for half measures. In what would be our fiftieth year of independence in a few days, the economy is structurally the same as it was when we attained independence. We are still a commodity producer with the same products dominating our economic landscape. In broad perspective, the only differences are that gold has replaced bauxite as one of the three pillars, along with rice and sugar, the export of logs has increased and the construction industry has grown.
Proroguing parliament is a legitimate constitutional device in Westminster constitutions, whatever its origins and the purpose for which it is used. Much of the time prorogation has been used for partisan purposes, has been unpopular and has incurred much opposition. The Governor prorogued the legislature in 1963 to cause the lapse of the Labour Relations Bill, which would have resulted in a poll in the sugar industry and ultimate recognition of the PPP aligned GAWU to represent sugar workers.
The President said that the objective of prorogation is to prevent confrontation and encourage consultation. The opposite will be the result. The Government’s life has come to a natural end because stalemate reigns everywhere. The renewal of the Government’s mandate, not perpetuation of its life, was the solution. A national unity government is another.