$100M annually for sports, arts fund - Jagdeo
Stabroek News
January 1, 2007

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President Bharrat Jagdeo last night announced that from this year's budget $100M will be set aside annually for a sports and arts development fund.

In his traditional Old Year's Night broadcast to the nation, the President described his initiative as the largest sum ever earmarked in the country's history to these areas and said he was sure it would provide a major impetus to the development of sports and kindle interest and standards in the arts.

"Sports and Arts have a tremendous potential for improving the image of the country, fostering social cohesion and keeping our young people meaningfully occupied", he said.

Addressing a broad range of issues, President Jagdeo said that the last year also saw Guyana proceeding with its case against Suriname under the United Nations Law of the Sea Convention. "We are confident that in the New Year (2007), we will have a settlement of the maritime border dispute with Suriname which will not only lend to improved relations with that country but also facilitate the unencumbered harvesting of our offshore natural resources".

With the ground-breaking implementation of the Value Added Tax (VAT) system beginning today, the President also had a warning in this area. Noting that VAT replaces six taxes that were already included in the prices of goods and services but which were not visible, Jagdeo said he was worried about malpractices by some businesses.

"My big concern is that unscrupulous businesses may want to charge VAT on the old prices which would have already included the hidden taxes that you were paying. We have to be vigilant against this taking place". He acknowledged that there were likely to be teething problems over the next few months as people learn more about the tax but assured that prices should adjust to their real levels through competition.

He reiterated that VAT has been carefully designed to ensure that it does not adversely affect the cost of living and as such a range of items including basic foods, utility services and fuel have been exempted or zero-rated.

Noting that during his speech to the ninth parliament he had outlined key elements of the economic development plan, the President contended that increased revenue for development will flow from "aggressive debt relief advocacy and from pro-growth policies" which will be firmly anchored in the National Competitiveness Strategy and generate more jobs and resources.

"We will ensure that our people have a primary claim on these resources through, among other things, better education; affordable and quality health care, including tertiary care not previously available in Guyana; greater access to electricity and potable water; and the upgrading and expansion of housing areas", Jagdeo declared.

He signalled preferential treatment for children, the poor, sick and indigent and pointed to two previously announced initiatives: an agency to address the welfare of children and a large shelter for the homeless.

Jagdeo said that his government intends to continue the practice of bringing the government closer to the people. He ended his address by extending new year's greetings to all and said he believed Guyanese could be more successful in achieving goals and objectives if they worked together.

"Let us therefore move ahead spiritedly in unity towards a Guyana where every citizen has the opportunity to succeed; where every Guyanese can live in a safe community; where families are strong; where schools are excellent; where the opportunities for education are entrenched; where the benefits of science and technology are within the reach of all; where people show compassion for the weak and vulnerable; and where each person is his brother's and sister's keeper. Such a Guyana is possible if we all work together, focused on the goals, rather than being distracted by the agents of division, despair and mistrust", the President urged.