By Dr Kumar Mahabir
In Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana and Suriname in the Southern Caribbean, National Budgets were read in their Parliaments recently (October 5th, and September 9th and 29th respectively).
In all three countries, the budgets were presented in the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic and were based largely on expected oil and gas revenues. Citizens, analysts and stakeholders have been paying close attention to see what would be the government’s plans for their individual countries.
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Trinidad, Guyana and Suriname are multi-ethnic countries in which there is rivalry, competition, tension and even conflict among tribal groups. It is, therefore, logical and legitimate to critically examine the expected impact of these budgets on the economic sectors in which Indians/Hindustanis pre/dominate.
No analyst in any of these countries has taken an ethnic approach in reviewing the individual budgets. None. The budgets have been conventionally studied to determine their impact on youths and women. But why ignore race? Is it a taboo topic be discussed only behind closed doors? Is race not an aspect of human demographics such as age and class? To refuse to discuss race in an objective, dispassionate, scientific and intellectual manner, is like refusing to see the elephant in the room.
High expectations in Guyana
Guyana is set to receive the highest estimated total income from its multi-billion-barrel oil and gas resources when compared to neighbours, Suriname and Trinidad, under various oil price scenarios. Sonya Boodoo, Vice President of Upstream Research, said that three major offshore discoveries have been made in Suriname to date.
The following are EXCERPTS of a ZOOM meeting held recently (11/10/20) on the topic “The 2020-21 National Budgets in Trinidad, Guyana and Suriname in relation to oil and gas revenues, and The Budgets’ impact on the Indo-Caribbean community in their respective countries. The Pan-Caribbean public meeting was moderated by anthropologist DR KUMAR MAHABIR from Trinidad and was hosted by the Indo-Caribbean Cultural Centre (ICC).
The speakers were DR INDERA SAGEWAN (Trinidad), an economist, policy analyst, lecturer, and former Senator and Member of Parliament; DHANRAJ SINGH (Guyana), the Executive Director of the Guyana Budget & Policy Institute; and DR STEVEN DEBIPERSAD (Suriname), a medical doctor and economics lecturer at the Anton de Kom University of Suriname. The discussant was DR INDIRA RAMPERSAD, a lecturer of political science and international relations in the University of the West Indies (UWI).
DHANRAJ SINGH of Guyana said, in part:
The Budget 2020-21 Budget will have a significant impact on families of all backgrounds in Guyana. Significant funding has been earmarked for core services such as health and education to ensure all Guyanese can get access to affordable healthcare and a good education.
Additionally, the budget adopted many of the funding, taxation and revenue measures that are system-wide and not demographically targeted. For example, the budget rolled back more than 100 taxation and revenues measures that were adopted by the previous administration that brought tremendous hardship to families living in poverty and on low incomes such as VAT taxes on electricity and water.
Indo-Guyanese represents roughly 45% of the 750,000 population. This means Indo-Guyanese, like everyone else, stands to benefit tremendously from these taxation and revenue measures. The new administration also returned investment to agriculture by increasing allocation over previous years and reopening the sugar estates that were closed by the previous administration.
The agriculture sector (sugar included) is dominated by Indo-Guyanese, although all races contribute to the sector. This reprioritization of the sector and the reopening of the estates, therefore, will benefit Indo-Guyanese tremendously. Finally, the new administration has prioritized infrastructure construction, particularly farm to market access roads.
A significant number of Indo-Guyanese live, and are employed, in the rural agriculture sectors. Investing in farm-to-market access roads, therefore, would open more opportunities for these families by connecting them to markets and the urban centres.
DR STEVEN DEBIPERSAD of Suriname said, in part:
There is a bright light on the horizon in Suriname. I am talking mainly about the off-shore oil discoveries of the Maka, Sapakara and Kwaskwasi oil wells in block 58 of operator Apache-Total. Of these, the Kwaskwasi well has be most potential, probably even more than the Liza well in Guyana.
Suriname doesn’t have figures of Indians/Hindustanis by sector. But overall, it could be inferred that this group is more active in trade and agriculture compared to other ethnicities. In agriculture, these activities are seen as informal, resulting in little assistance from the government. Since austerity measures will result in a price effect, less social support (via the COVID-fund) to mitigate these effects is expected for informal work.
The lower-income groups as well as those involved in informal work (mainly Hindustanis) will suffer more. Oil revenues should not be expected within five years, so local current productivity must be supported by the government for the economy to get back on track. This will be a challenge, given the current conditions.