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.
As China celebrates its National Day, it is dealing with complicated challenges on multiple fronts. Much has been written by experts who have spent lifetimes studying China and its relations with the rest of the world so that anything that comes out of our little corner of the world is very much a subject of our own limited perspectives. The defining background, of course, is China’s development into a great economic and military power in the past thirty years. For Guyana, our relations with China began in 1972 when diplomatic relations were established. Even though courageous at the time, Guyana followed the United States and did not anticipate US hostility to its move. The PPP had relations with the Chinese Communist Party long before as fraternal parties, This was disrupted during the period of the dispute between the Soviet Union and China, but resumed later.
President Obama’s ‘pivot to Asia’ was seen as a thinly disguised attempt to ‘contain’ the growing military power of China, which the US presumably felt would later be a threat to its allies in the region, including Japan and South Korea. While controversy has existed for a long time about China’s claims to ownership of islands claimed by other countries, including Japan, in the South China seas, the heightening of tensions by increasing US military activities, is an integral part of the efforts of the West to ‘contain’ China. The latter’s interest in retaining influence or control over the South China seas is to protect its trade routes and its security.
It appears as if the Georgetown City Council has already decided in principle to install parking meters in Georgetown for the purpose of creating an additional source of revenue. The streets in which the meters are to be installed are Avenue of the Republic, Regent Street, Robb Street, Camp Street, Main Street, Brickdam, Water Street, America Street and Church Street. This decision should be reconsidered.
Coming so soon after the elections, the decision to install parking meters was clearly on APNU+AFC’s agenda prior to the elections. During the elections, APNU+AFC contestants had ample opportunity to inform the residents of Georgetown that parking meters were on the agenda but they kept this plot a secret for obvious reasons.
The recent publication of the forensic audit into the Gold Board has raised concerns about its operations. The forensic audit revealed that “poor management of gold in its possession resulted in losses of over $10 billion for the period 2012 to 2014.” The report found that the losses were due to the maintenance of high stocks while the price for gold declined. The Board “seemed uncertain how to respond to changing market conditions and continued to hold large quantities of gold even as the price declined further.” The report, which is damning in several other respects, comes while reports of the smuggling of 450 pounds of gold to Curacao in November 2012 and Minister Trotman’s estimate of 15,000 ounces of gold being smuggled out of Guyana every week are still resonating as unresolved problems.
The Gold Board was established under the provisions of the Guyana Gold Board Act 1981 in the era when capitalism in Guyana was under official attack and nationalization of large foreign owned companies had been executed with zeal. Foreign trade, if not nationalized, had become heavily regulated. And so the Guyana Gold Board Act was passed to establish the Gold Board as the body which would take over all trade in gold. Section 8 says that “no person shall sell any gold to, or purchase any gold from, any person other than the Board…”
The announcement by the Government that the Wales Sugar Estate would be closed at the end of 2016 was the subject of a symposium at Moray House at Camp and Quamina Streets, the former home of the late David de Caires, the founding editor of Stabroek News. In opening the event, the Chair of Moray House Trust, Isabelle de Caires, noting the controversial nature of the issue and the passions it has generated in the midst of a general strike in the sugar industry, declared that it was not a political event but a debate with panelists and contributors being free to express whatever views they wished. Ms. de Caires pointed out that while some may wish to construe an organised public event on an important national issue as being politically motivated, silence could also be construed as a political statement.
The panelists were Jai Petam, who until a year ago served the sugar industry for 35 years, including in senior management positions generally and at Wales Estate over the past 18 years; Derrick Venture, of La Retraite/Stanleytown Cane Farmers Association for the past 35 years; Mark Khan, who has worked at Wales Estate for the past 30 years and is the plant foreman; Christopher Ram, accountant and lawyer and President of the Guyana Bar Association; Vicram Oditt, businessman and former Chair of the Board of Directors from 1993 to 2003. Guysuco declined participation but Mr. Tony Vieira, a member of the Board of Directors of Guysuco was present but in his personal capacity. And while the Government also did not participate, the Minister of Business, Mr. Dominic Gaskin, was present throughout the meeting. I am sure that these gestures were appreciated by members of the audience, including those from Wales. No doubt those who are passionately urging the Government to pause and reconsider are hoping that the Government is not only listening, but will also hear.