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.
The Government’s budget for 2019 continues a disturbing trend and vision for Guyana’s future. Despite promising “a good life” for Guyanese, the budget continues to shape a future in which the government is not accountable to taxpayers, where corruption and political nepotism are entrenched, and future oil revenues benefit only the governing political class. More troubling is that taxpayers’ money is used to pay for the government’s priorities at the expense of their own livelihood and success. Fortunately, there are common sense policies that can make the economy work for everyone and put it on a sustainable path.
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.