By Kurt Campbell
After two weeks of heated debates and intense scrutiny of the 2020 National Budget, the National Assembly quietly passed the $329.5B fiscal plan just after 10pm on Friday.
This means that the Government now has the authority to utilize monies from the Consolidated Fund to address several major and immediate issues including the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
The budget was approved moments after Parliamentarians wrapped up the consideration of the 2020 Budget Estimates in the Committee of Supply and voted unanimously to pass the Appropriation Bill.
It authorizes Government spending for the period October 1, 2020, to December 31, 2020.
While the Bill was passed unopposed, Parliamentarians were locked in a debate on the Government’s possible flouting of constitutional provisions dealing with the Statement of Excess brought to the House by Minister of Public Works Juan Edghill.
The House also debated the $183 billion for the period January 1 to September 30, 2020, had to be included in the budget to cover the previous administration’s spending which was done without parliamentary approval and oversight.
The new People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) administration has said that the over $300 billion emergency budget, of which more than half accounts for monies already spent by the APNU+AFC, represents a start of its plan for prosperity.
Prepared in a record 21 days, it was laid by Minister of Public Works Juan Edghill, who has been delegated the responsibility for the finance sector during the budget period given that the country is without a Minister of Finance.
During the debate on the Appropriation Bill, Minister Edghill rebuked the former administration for dodging snap-elections after the successful passage of the no-confidence motion on December 21, 2018, which led to the unauthorised spending.
Referencing the dissolution of the 11th Parliament, Edghill said the caretaker government’s spending should have been exclusively for public services, however, he cited glaring evidence of spending outside of what the law prescribes.
“Public services can’t be new capital projects like an $823 million school to a financier of your party on the Linden-Soesdyke Highway,” Minister Edghill said, adding that “the intent and the spirit of the law was not followed.”
The PPP Government has included in the budget a $25,000 COVID-19 cash grant along with sweeping tax reliefs such as the removal of the 25% corporate tax on education and health and the removal of value-added tax on medical supplies.
Some of the most significant VAT removals are on electricity and water, hinterland travel, building and construction materials and cellular phones.
The Emergency Budget also saw $150 million set aside to support COVID-19 frontline workers along with the resumption and simultaneous increase of the cash grants for school children to $15,000 and doubling of the uniform allowance to $4,000.
Further, the extensive list of relief measures includes a $5 billion allocation to the Guyana Sugar Corporation to resuscitate the sugar industry after years of neglect and mass layoffs by the former administration. Enmore, Rose Hall, and Skeldon estates will be reopened in a phase approach.
With much focus on fostering the growth of the small business sector, $100 million has been budgeted for the Small Business Development Fund, $212.1million for the Small Business Bureau, and a$105 million allocation was earmarked for the Sustainable Livelihood and Entrepreneurial Development programme.
Budget 2020 was passed under the theme “Our Plan for Prosperity: Protecting our People in a COVID-19 Environment; Strengthening Democracy and the Rule of Law; Incentivizing Economic Growth and Job Creation; and, Enhancing Welfare.”