Minister of Tourism, Industry and Commerce Oneidge Walrond on Friday defended the Government’s support for the private sector in the 2020 Budget noting that “future growth is impossible without a thriving private sector.”
Several members of the Opposition APNU+AFC have criticised the budget as “a private-sector budget” which does not support the working class.
Walrond in her maiden speech to the National Assembly noted that the non-petroleum private sector is set to contract by five per cent this year as a result of the political climate in 2019 and the ensuing COVID-19 pandemic.
As such, she said it is important to support the business community to maintain the employment of Guyanese and investments into the economy.
“What is the private sector without people? When the private sector thrives the people thrive, the private sector employs people, the private sector pays taxes with which we fund essential services for the people, the private sector brings in foreign currency, the private sector is one of the most important components in alleviating poverty.”
The Minister said “economic development is unthinkable without the growth of the private sector,” adding the view that the private sector only comprises of big companies is “wholly flawed” as the sector also includes hundreds of small families and single parents.
The Minister pointed out that 62% of the tourism and hospitality industry are either closed or have downsized as a result of the COVID-19 restrictions.
In this regard, the Walrond said there are several measures which will be implemented to ensure recovery.
She said the Ministry has started moving its services online to increase efficiency and this will continue beyond COVID-19.
According to the Minister, $100M was set aside for a Small Business Development Fund to provide relief and recovery for businesses affected by the pandemic.
“Those businesses will then be required thereafter, to qualify for continuing relief, to demonstrate that they are meeting the key objectives among which are preservation of employment and minimizing of price impact to customers,” Minister Walrond said.
In addition, the Small Business Bureau (SBB) is looking to register some 1,500 persons this year.
If the target is reached, the Minister said “the SBB has the potential to positively impact the lives of up to almost 11,000 Guyanese.”
The Minister said measures will be implemented to ensure the hospitality and tourism sector can improve to support the local oil and gas industry.
“We will insist on meaningful local participation,” Walrond told the National Assembly.
She noted that support to medium, small and micro enterprises exceeds $400M.
A total of $85.7M was set aside for the competitiveness strategy which will improve businesses’ capacity to compete on the international market.
A total of $10M was allocated to continue implementing the Single Window Automated Processing System of which $35M was spent from January to July. This seeks to reduce the time and cost of complying with regulatory procedures.
Other key initiatives that offer direct support to industry will include the completion of Business Support and Incubation facilities including Industrial Estate facilities at Lethem, Leguan, Enmore and Belvedere for which $17M was spent between January and July and for which $92.7M is programmed for the rest of 2020.
Over $2B was budgeted for the Ministry of Tourism, Industry and Commerce.