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2019 billion dollar Budget lacks substance – Friday

2019 billion dollar Budget lacks substance – Friday
Leader of the Opposition, Dr Godwin Friday


Leader of the Opposition, Dr Godwin Friday says the billion dollar Budget for 2019 lacks substance and the necessary elements to generate growth in this country’s economy.

Friday made his presentation on the budget in the House of Assembly on Tuesday, starting off the second day of debate on the EC$1,067,343,283 budget proposed by finance minister, Camillo Gonsalves.
The opposition leader said that Gonsalves presented the budget “with such confidence and glee, you would have thought Mr Speaker, that we had won the lottery here in St Vincent.”

He said the finance minister used new terms and referenced projects with the possible intent to dazzle members of the House and the electorate.

But Friday described the budget as being more of the same.

“There is something of the heft that is lacking in it. It lacks substance, what it needs to generate growth,” he said. “No love at all because the people, the young people who the minister proclaim to love so much, they are still confronted with the same old, same old budget, same old, same old predictions of growth.”

Friday made reference to “Renewal @40” an initiative for the celebration of the 40th independence of SVG. The initiative was described by the finance minister as a wide-ranging and multifaceted programme of reflection and reinvention that ranges from the cultural to the infrastructural and includes several rehabilitation and refurbishing projects.

However, the opposition leader said that “The usual works of ministries have been divided up and repackaged as Renewal 40, old wine in new bottles”.

He added: “Mr Speaker, what they used to label under the NDP as ‘gouti tracks, they now calling it PAVE (Pedestrian Access for Village Enhancement programme)”.

Friday said that this country in 2018, had an estimated growth of 2.5 per cent.

He added that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has projected 2.3 per cent growth for 2019, the World Bank has estimated 1.6 per cent while the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) predicts 1.5 per cent.

“…if those estimates turn out to be accurate or anywhere near that, it will be nothing new or different in this budget,” the opposition leader said. “It would be the same, average growth rate of around 2 per cent that this government has had since coming to office. In fact, there was a time when in the last report of the IMF last year, 2017, Article 4 consultation, it said that the economy grew by 0.2 percent for a four year period 2009-2013 or somewhere around there. My point is Mr Speaker, this budget for all its gloss, and for all the attempt by the new minister to differentiate himself from the previous minister of finance, the substance remains the same.”

Friday said that approximately 46 per cent of youths cannot find jobs and that situation has failed to generate urgency in the government to try something different.

He added that the sense of urgency was lacking in trying to do something different to jumpstart the economy, to give youths hope and to provide solace to people who were crying about the difficulty of life in this country.

And he further said that he and his colleagues on the opposing side of the House could not confine their presentations to the Budget presentation given by the finance minister because people would not get a sense of what could be possible.

“We would be treading down the same path behind the minister of finance, questioning figures, whether this one is bigger or smaller, and what to call this programme this year, as opposed to last year and whether we are on another cusp of an economic take off, and arguing about things like that when in fact, Mr Speaker, there is a path or there are paths, that are less travelled or not travelled at all by this government, that we have to explore in order to show the people of this country that we can do better,” the opposition leader said.

The budget this year is more than 7 per cent increase on the amount budgeted in 2018. Recurrent expenditure for 2019 is estimated at EC$844,763,703 and capital expenditure is estimated at EC$222,579,580.

Current revenue sits at EC$656,590,775 – a more than 5 per cent increase or EC$34.9 million more than the budgeted current revenue in 2018.

In his budget presentation on Monday, the finance minister said that the government will be introducing several new fiscal measures which included increased taxes on tobacco products, sweetened beverages and alcohol.

A small excise will also be introduced on fuel and adjustments will be made to airport landing and parking fees at the Argyle International Airport.
Together, these fiscal measures are projected to generate a revenue increase of roughly EC$8 million.