Georgetown Chamber says budget has not tackled `core' issues

Stabroek News
July 2, 2001

Eddie Boyer, new President of the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI) is challenging the government to demonstrate "vision and leadership" at this depressing time in the economy.

Commenting on the 2001 budget, Boyer said the Chamber views the $64.7 billion expenditure programme with "ambivalence" as the budget for the most part has not tackled many of the core issues raised by the GCCI. As a result, he said, the perception has been formed that the consultations between the private sector and the government are mere formalities.

"The concessions that garment manufacturers are to enjoy should extend to other industries to stimulate spheres of economic development throughout the length and breadth of Guyana," Boyer asserted in a statement.

He said that coupled with the government's poverty reduction strategy should be an emphasis on job creation within sectors poised for takeoff. Boyer sees the dairy and cattle industry, housing and tourism as a few of the sectors, which can propel economic growth. He also cited the potential gains of bridging the Berbice River and opening the Guyana/Brazil superhighway.

"The government has to make budgetary provision to prepare Guyana to become a major transshipment point into Europe and Latin America," Boyer argued.

Boyer saw the unchanged non?taxable income threshold as a restriction on consumer spending power and limiting the ability of consumers to offset the spiralling cost of living.

He said that whilst the Chamber appreciates that external and internal factors militate against a budget which provides tangible relief to all interest groups, the government must rise to the challenge and demonstrate "vision and leadership".

He added that whilst the budget on one hand introduces no new taxes, this is undermined by the hike in the official exchange rate used by the customs administration and this is tantamount to indirect taxation.

Boyer pointed out that domestic and external debt servicing as a percentage of revenue has declined significantly and the government must be congratulated for this. However, he said the Chamber wants to see increases in reasonable returns within all sectors and the attendant rise in standard of living for all Guyanese.

"Unfortunately, the reverse seems to be the case. Many businesses are facing imminent closure while others are downsizing. Obviously the volatile political climate is a major deterrent to both local and foreign direct investment," Boyer said.

The Chamber, he asserted, is pleased that the ministry of home affairs benefited from a 9.45% increase in total allocation. He said serious emphasis needs to be placed in this ministry on enhancing the armed forces' capabilities. The ministry, he contended, also needs to implement strategies to improve internal security and minimise social unrest.

The businessman also noted the need for resources to be targeted at developing a national policy on electronic commerce, pointing out that 2005 will see trade barriers coming down as the Free Trade Areas of the Americas becomes a reality. Guyana, he says, will be swept up in a global market of 800 million people accounting for a Gross Domestic Product of one trillion US dollars.

"If Guyana is to achieve a balance of trade surplus, it would mean revolutionising the way we currently conduct business. Our tottering manufacturing sector would have to retool to meet international quality and quantity output demands. Our fledgling service sector would have to take off and the only way to achieve the exponential growth required lies in the realm of electronic commerce," Boyer posited.

The Chamber sees the need for effective mechanisms to be put in place by the government to allow for the optimum use of budget resources to ensure Guyana is able to hold her own in the international environment. Boyer underscored the need for Guyana to control her internal problems and for the political bickering and strife to be halted.

He believes that the spirit of cooperation and mutual respect can allow for policies and measures reflected in the budget and in the National Development Strategy to become realities. He feels that if the government fails to act quickly on the recommendations of the NDS then it will become an anachronistic document.

And he also said that it will only be by enforcing competence and professionalism that the government will erase the uncertainty, which shrouds the tender board process. "Accountability must be the hallmark of this or any government. Systems must be enforced to ease the frustrations businessmen face on a daily basis with departments like Customs," Boyer argued.

He also said that everyone needs to transcend partisan interests and allow Guyana to realise her potential.