2021 Estimates ‘filled with lies and dishonesty’ – Friday
Instead of being a blueprint for the future, particularly in the unprecedented times brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, the 2021 Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure are “filled with lies and dishonesty”.
Dr Godwin Friday, the opposition leader expressed this sentiment this week when he rose in Parliament to debate the EC$1.21 billion Estimates presented by finance minister Camillo Gonsalves for the upcoming fiscal year.
The Estimates were passed in the House late Wednesday night, ahead of the 2021 Budget Presentation and Debate scheduled to begin on Monday, February 1.
“We were in bad shape as an economy before Covid, but it has gotten much worse. The Estimates must recognise this and respond accordingly,” Friday said.
The opposition leader opened his presentation with some discourse on the Covid-19 situation in St Vincent and the Grenadines, which in recent times has seemingly taken a turn for the worse with a spike of local cases.
This country recorded its first two deaths this month.
Friday said the Estimates put forward demonstrate a failure on the part of the finance minister to grasp the gravity of the situation and of the government to provide what is necessary to get out of it.
“As is commonly said, they say you can’t judge a book by its cover. Well, unfortunately, that doesn’t apply to this one because inside, the pretence, the dishonesty, the fake numbers continue,” he said. “It’s something we have spoken about over and over, over the years. The problem continues because to some, it’s not a big deal. So, we have a budget of $1.2 billion this year – I know the minister said it’s a little bit bigger than what was approved last year but in reality, the revised Estimates last year was $1,343,414,746… it was revised up from the approved Estimates.”
Based on his calculations, the opposition leader said this country is spending $130 million less than last year’s $1.32 billion revised Estimates.
He added that this means the government has proposed to spend less money in 2021 than in the previous year – exactly 10 per cent less than in 2020.
“Assuming the government can raise that money, the 1.2 billion that it intends to spend – which we know it can’t and I’ll explain why – the fact that it intends to spend less, suggests that we have somehow reverted back to the pre-Covid fiscal posture. Is the crisis over? I know there was some celebration back in December that somehow, we had done better than everybody else, but we know that the pain has not ended…” Friday said.
The opposition leader also questioned if the proposed Estimates were representative of the government running out of money.
Friday suggested that the situation was actually worse than it seemed because of “a huge chunk of the budget that every year, keeps growing”.
The sum of money being referred to is categorised as “other receipts” and is part of the Capital Revenue, which has been estimated at EC$565,215,575 for 2021.
“The minister, when he was presenting it this morning, he mentioned it, but he glossed over it. So, we have $258 million in “other receipts” in the Estimates. That means that there is a sizable chunk of the overall budget that the minister doesn’t know where it’s going to come from…,” the parliamentarian said.
He added: “…It means that 258 million worth of stuff in a reduced, already reduced budget will not be paid for, will not be done. That is 21 per cent of the overall budget is unfunded. Last year, the number was, I think about 17 per cent so it’s gone up. So, it is false. It is dishonest to put in the budget that you’re going to spend $1.2 billion when you can’t say where you’re going to get $258 million of that”.
As at December 31, 2020, the total public debt amounted to EC$1,871,029,887 – 20 per cent more than the total disbursed outstanding public debt for the same period in 2019.
The total domestic debt amounted to EC$579.6 million at the end of 2020 – a 17.2 per cent increase when compared to the same period in 2019.
The external debt at the end of 2020 stood at $1.29 billion – an increase of 9.8 per cent when compared with external debt as of the end of 2019.
Friday told Parliament on Wednesday that debt has become a serious issue for SVG.
He also questioned the various ways in which the government intended to acquire funds to service the growing debt.
“It is time for honesty and transparency. Is the government broke? Are we in for some hard times? It is not just the uncertainty that he spoke of this morning; of Covid – everybody knows that – or is it just the hole that we have dug for ourselves over the years where now, it is so deep that even our heads can’t be seen above it,” the opposition leader said.