The government’s budget for the fiscal year 2018 essentially mortgaged the future of Guyanese and the economy. Despite record level spending, the budget cuts funding for the infrastructure and agriculture sectors that are critical for creating employment opportunities, mostly for low-skilled workers. Lawmakers continued to shift billions to shore up the government bureaucracy instead of better aligning spendings with social and economic needs. There are no major changes in policy direction to steer the economy away from its current downward trajectory.
Guyana Flirts with a Public Health Crisis: Immunization Rates Fell Despite Record Funding for Health
Once a poster child for immunization coverage, Guyana is flirting with a public health crisis from common preventable illnesses. In 2016, vaccination rates that protects against polio, tuberculosis, pneumococcal disease and other fatal bacterial infections declined between 3 – 5 percentage point over 2014. The decline in these vaccination rates are not only striking but a surprise given that from 2014 public health expenditures grew by 29% or almost $6 billion, reaching a total of $26.2 billion in 2016. Lawmakers and public health professionals, alike, must take these findings seriously, take immediate actions to investigate the causes, and corrective measures to ensure that every child gets vaccinated on time.
Guyana: Taxpayers Lost Almost $1 Billion to Financial Waste and Abuse at the Ministry of Public Infrastructure Over Two Years
The Auditor General flagged almost $1 billion in Ministry of Public Infrastructure expenditures for financial mismanagement, waste, abuse, and non-compliance with the country’s fiscal management and accountability laws and standards during Fiscal Years 2015 and 2016. Almost $683 million represented “financial waste” and almost $243 million was “abuse,” and other forms of mismanagement. The Auditor General’s reports also identified serious concerns with widespread inefficiency and poor management of the Ministry. Lawmakers must amend or enact legislation, to end such waste, abuse, and mismanagement of public resources. These resources must deliver maximum public benefits to citizens and promote economic growth.
Guyana has one of the Highest Mother and Child Death Rates in Latin America and the Caribbean, Mostly from Preventable Causes
Guyana continues to experience one of the highest mother and child death rates in Latin American and the Caribbean, despite economic growth and larger government spending. Insufficient public investment in the healthcare sector and the resulting poor quality of services and lack of access to needed care leads to many preventable deaths. Fortunately, there are common sense policies the government can adopt to significantly improve access to and the quality of services needed to keep mothers and children alive.
Regrettably, the only winner of the 2018 budget is the government, not the hard working Guyanese families struggling to make ends meet, agriculture and low-skilled workers searching for good paying jobs to support their families, or small businesses struggling to make payroll. The growing cost of government administration consumes significant amount of resources that could be better use to benefit families and businesses. Despite increasing total spending, the budget cuts funding for critical sectors and is unlikely to stimulate job creation and economic growth.
While there is no way of knowing what the government priorities are until the budget is presented, it is important to reflect on the state of the economy and more importantly the policy and budget decisions of the 2017 budget that contributed to the current economic distress. Despite record level government spending, the economy remained in peril with high-risked growth, high unemployment, severe poverty, rising crime, and low consumer confidence as funding for key sectors were diverted to a growing appetite of the government administration costs. Fortunately, there are common sense policies the government can take to boost the economy and promote widespread economic prosperity.
A new think tank has emerged that analyzes and dissects budget and public policy issues in Guyana. The Guyana Budget & Policy Institute (GBPI) aims to bring attention to a range of issues that affect the quality of life of residents, economic growth, health, education, job creation, and income through the lens of the national budget and policies.
Government’s Budget for 2017 Focuses on the Wrong Priorities and is Unlikely to Spur Economic Growth
Despite the increase in expenditures, the budget makes it more difficult for low-income families to overcome poverty and achieve economic independence. Changes in the country’s tax laws shift more of the tax burden to households and disproportionately burden low-income families. Current expenditures alone consume all general revenues, limiting the sources of funding for major investment to grants and new debts. These findings raise key questions as to whether current allocations represent the best use of public funds and the implications of the current allocations and spending levels on future budget decisions.
The level of poverty and associated levels of malnourishment will have dire consequences on the future health of the population and the potential for future economic growth in Guyana unless immediate steps are taken to address these issues. More than 36 percent of Guyanese or almost 4 in 10 people are living in poverty i.e. surviving on an income of U$1.75 per day or G$10,494 per month.
The experience of countries around the world shows that closing the gender gap and reducing inequality results in better social and economic outcomes, and promotes widespread prosperity. Unfortunately, in Guyana, there is a reversal of progress made in these policy priorities, according to according to recently released data by the World Bank. This is likely a contributing factor to the country’s current social and economic problems.
Guyana: Finding Oil and Real Prosperity Are Not the Same, Note the Differences and Beware of the Dangers.
The discovery of oil and the potentials for economic growth and improved standard of living are good news for Guyanese families, workers, and businesses. However, the benefits of oil wealth do not automatically flow from the state’s treasury to families, businesses, and the economy. Like oil companies which have to assembly rigs, refineries, transportation, and distribution systems to move oil from the earth to the pump, so too must the government take necessary steps to ensure oil wealth flows from the state treasury to the kitchen tables of families, pocket books of small businesses and grow the economy.
Less Than 18 Percent of Government Transfers to the Regions is for Supporting Agriculture and Infrastructure – Key Economic Sectors
The failure to adequately invest in key sectors of the economy limits economic growth and is likely to further exacerbate current economic uncertainty and prime the economy for a downward spiral. The government’s budget for 2017 includes fiscal transfers to the 10 Administrative Regions totaling more than $35 billion. Of this total, less than 18 percent is allocated for supporting the agriculture sector and for building and repairing critical infrastructures necessary for creating a strong economic foundation for sustained growth.