Thursday, January 18, 2018

Positive realities in Howai’s budget

Rickey Singh logo27

Mark Fraser

TODAY, when US senators are likely to take a vote on a “limited military strike” against Syria to coincide with the 12th anniversary of the horrific terrorist attack on America, I wish to briefly deal with a few aspects of Finance Minister Larry Howai’s presentation on Monday of this country’s biggest-ever budget.

As a mere non-Trini journalist, I do not envy the PNM’s leader, Keith Rowley, and his fellow Opposition colleagues in their efforts to decry what they may view as shortcomings, or worse, in the Howai budget of 2014, amid some amusing talk of it being an “election” presentation

What could be a credible observation is that with very few, and not more than two exceptions within Caricom—Guyana being one—a whole lot of finance ministers in this region would be enviously viewing Mr Howai’s fortunate position in a robust energy-based economy that facilitates his comparatively generous fiscal offerings and more.

The dramatic political sideshow of the unseating of the usually flamboyant parliamentarian, Herbert Volney, cannot seriously detract from Mr Howai’s new initiatives to stimulate economic growth and boost job creation. 

After all, these are consistent with strategies being encouraged by the international financial institutions and major foreign donors.

From a regional perspective, I think the Finance Minister’s fiscal policies, as they relate to the termination of the $300 million annual subsidy for state-owned Caribbean Airline Ltd (CAL) and the commitment to pursue a joint food production partnership with Guyana, starting with large-scale rice production, would both be welcome by regional partners as a whole.

In terms of the latter, just think of the crippling estimated US$5 billion being spent annually in food imports.

•First, the ending of CAL’s subsidy: 

The shareholders and management of regional airline, LIAT, would no longer be able to link some of the recurring complaints from travellers with their own operational problems with talk about the economic advantage that CAL has long enjoyed with the US$50 million annual subsidy.

•Second, consistent with a visionary policy dating  back to the late prime minister Eric Williams for the creation of a Caribbean Food Corporation, and associated with ideas of that doyen among regional economists, the late William Demas, the Howai budget reflects the commitment of Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s administration to push ahead with food production plans with Guyana—long viewed (along with Belize)—as a potential food basket of Caricom.

Now that suspension of the annual $300 million subsidy to CAL has been announced, it is reasonable to expect a response from the shareholder governments and board of LIAT since it would undoubtedly be a boost for the new business plan crafted for the island-hopping regional airline—as earlier reported  in this column.

LIAT and CAL could hardly be unaware of the new competition to be faced from Suriname in doing airline business with Guyana, one of the destinations from which have flowed complaints against both regional airlines.

Just a week ago, news reports out of Georgetown pointed to the increased “attraction” for Guyana of Dutch tourists via Suriname.

In this context, perhaps CAL and the minister responsible for air transportation, if not also the Prime Minister herself, may wish to make a public statement as to why Guyanese passengers, travelling from the US and elsewhere via Piarco to the Cheddi Jagan International Airport, have to be subjected to humiliating and discriminatory treatment at the Piarco airport. 

Neither the ministry directly responsible, nor the Ministry of Foreign Affairs can honestly claim to be unaware of such unwarranted discrimination against Guyanese on their way back home.  

Ask Guyana’s Foreign Minister. Ask the Express. The latter has both reported and editorialised on this sad situation that is so contrary to the historical good relations between two neighbouring states. 

Meanwhile, we in the Caribbean will undoubtedly be joining  the rest of the world in watching and assessing how US President Barack Obama performs in relation to his threatened military strikes against Syria, in the face of uncertainties of positive endorsement from the  US Congress. 

Additionally, there are the growing warnings against such a development coming from  the UN Secretary General, the Pope, as well as UN veto-wielding powers like Russia and China.