The campaign against the unilateral and undemocratic imposition of parking meters in Georgetown is at last bearing fruit. The Government has been persuaded to intervene and had asked the City Council to suspend the operation of the contract until a renegotiation of its terms can be effected. At a time when the Government has been taking criticism for being indecisive, it has shown commendable resolve in this matter, even though a bit late.
The campaign against the parking metes was sustained by the outrage of citizens at the exorbitant charges imposed. These charges are simply not affordable by most of the people who are employed in Georgetown and travel to work in their motor cars. The same case that has been made by teachers at Bishops High and staffers at the Bank of Guyana, who were given free parking by Smart City Solutions (SCS), applies to most others.
Public rage in Georgetown continues to grow and expand as last Thursday’s massive demonstration shows, even as the Government has finally been forced to intervene in the parking meter fiasco. But it is too little too late. Boat gone a’ fall. The demand is now for the rescinding of the flawed agreement between the City Council and SCS.
The Government faltered when it allowed the City Council to proceed with the parking meter secret project, with charges that were outrageously high – 37 percent of the average monthly salary in Guyana as compared with a high of 13 percent of the monthly salary in the US. After the meeting between the Government and the City Council, the Government did not call for the release of the secret agreement. That is a telling omission.
Three of the four dailies on Friday headlined the second oil find by ExxonMobil at a well called Payara-1. Past predictions about the presence of petroleum deposits in off-shore Guyana were confirmed when ExxonMobil’s announced its world class discovery, the largest for 2016, at its Liza well. If the Payara-1 turns out to be large, then the predictions of much greater deposits in the area could be accurate and much more oil could be found.
The amount of petroleum deposits that have already been found is enough to transform Guyana. But somehow Guyanese do not yet appear to be impressed. Casual conversations with Guyanese suggest that the cynicism that has developed from decades of promises based on Guyana’s agricultural potential, that Guyana could become the bread basket of the Caribbean and Guyana’s failure to take off economically, continues to exist. When told about the prospect of oil wealth for Guyana, and what it could mean for the future, many Guyanese are dismissive and unbelieving.
The truth is that Guyana would be transformed and we need to choose how. It would not happen overnight, of course, but by 2025 Guyanese would be feeling the impact of the oil income, which would continually increase. The Government appears to be making preparations to establish the legal framework and institutional mechanisms. There is no evidence that it is making any effort to reach out to the Opposition to build consensus from the earliest stage. If the Government wants political and national consensus going forward, it needs to start consultations with the Opposition early or face the possibility of a perennially contentious situation for our oil industry. Former Minister of Energy of Trinidad and Tobago, Kevin Ramnarine, speaking in Guyana recently, urged the establishment of a national oil and gas company to manage the oil industry, whose leadership should be insulated from politics. While this is easier said than done, it can be accomplished if the effort starts now.
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.