A natural resource windfall is an opportunity to transform a poor economy. Unfortunately, it is also an opportunity for plunder. The struggle between these options is existential: for example, the same resource discovery, diamonds, propelled Botswana from poverty to affluence, and convulsed Sierra Leone into violence and destitution. In that struggle, the best defence is a critical mass of citizens who understand the issues. But that critical mass has to be built: the siren call of plunder has often been powerfully seductive, and some of the choices that turn out to be key are not obvious. This guide is a timely and well-crafted step in building that citizen understanding. Opinion-leaders in Guyana, both in politics and the media, now have a responsibility to give it the attention it warrants.
Mr. Lowe’s recommendation that Guyana should go the route of pre-production oil revenue borrowing is misguided and a poor economic prescription. Resource-based borrowing should not be confused with pre-production oil revenue borrowing for they are fundamental differences between the two – that main difference being timing. Borrowing on pre-production oil revenue ignores the multiple risks facing the realization of such revenues. While preliminary results show that Guyana may realize the commercial production of oil in the future, these signals should not be taken as foregone conclusions.
Berbicians are in for more pain and economic hardship as the Berbice Bridge Company proposes tolls increases that are three times higher than current tolls. Families and businesses alike are already suffering from the ill-advised closure of multiple sugar factories that were the backbone of the County’s economy. The proposed tolls hike would devastate families, especially low-income and poor families, school children, and workers, and bring the County’s economy to a grinding halt unless the government takes the necessary steps to avoid the proposed toll increases.
Reduced Health Funding in Guyana Since 2011 Resulted in Higher Infant and Child Deaths and Worsened Adult Health Outcomes
Public investment in health in Guyana declined continuously since 2011, reaching its lowest level in almost two decades. The result was a substantial increase in child deaths and a slowdown in improvement in adult life expectancy. Balancing a budget on healthcare or tying its funding to non-economic outcomes are short-sighted policies with devastating consequences that are paid for with Guyanese lives.
The government should use a portion of oil revenues to fund an Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) program to help lift families out of poverty and put them on a path to prosperity. It also incentivizes work as opposed to discouraging it resulting in greater labour market activities and improvement in social and economic well-being. The EITC is one of the most successful anti-poverty reduction policies and a better option than direct cash transfers. In addition to lifting poor and low-income families out of poverty, the EITC has been successful in growing the tax base and reign in informal activities in the formal economy.
Over the last five years, taxpayers funded more than $1.1 trillion in government spending, each year pumping more money into the government coffers than the previous year. Despite this, taxpayers received less and less in return. The government was simply unable to use taxpayers’ money to improve the economy and create opportunities for families and businesses to succeed. Moreover, its budget and policies undermined growth and began to reverse decades of positive economic momentum and social and economic progress. Government officials must start making better investment decisions to ensure taxpayers get a good return for their hard-earned dollars.
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: 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.
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.