Leader of the Opposition Dr Godwin Friday has blasted the 2023 Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure and criticised Minister of Finance Minister, Camillo Gonsalves claiming that his inability to communicate the source of funding for 30 per cent of the external receipts is deceitful and breeds mistrust.
On Tuesday, December 13, Gonsalves presented the Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure for the 2023 fiscal year amounting to $1,445,886,613 which he said is an 8.8 per cent increase over the approved budget for 2022.
The Finance Minister said financing for the capital budget amounts to $684.5 million of which $100.2 million will be from domestic receipts and $584.3 million from external receipts.
He explained in Parliament that in relation to the external receipts, $68.7 million will be raised from grants ($45.1 million of which will come from multilateral organizations and $23.6 million will be received from a number of named bilateral sources); a sum of $289.7 million in external loans will come from a number of named multilateral creditors with the remainder of $225.9 million being derived from “other receipts.”
However, Friday was quite displeased that Gonsalves did not name the sources of the “other receipts.”
“He took the time to disaggregate some of the loans and grants he gathered from various countries, and one of the largest items under the capital receipts of $225 million dollars was “other receipts”, and he was absolutely silent on it — no indication as to where that $225 million is coming from.”
Friday said that he is sceptical because this does not inspire confidence that the government has the money. He added that the minister has a duty to tell the people which of the “goodies” he’s presenting will not be delivered.
“You can’t just say to people, you will know it when you feel it. This is not good planning,” the Opposition leader chided.
He suggested that the minister could either show where the money is coming from, or say which programmes or projects will be eliminated or reduced because they don’t have the money to do it.
He said further that the government expects to have $1.44 billion in revenue to spend but in reality, it doesn’t have that, because there is an overall deficit which is comprised of the current deficit of over $10 million plus amortization costs, the repayment of debt of 180. 6 million, and the sinking fund allocations of $22 million, and you have a total overall current deficit of $212.8 million.
“Be upfront and honest and stop promising what you know you can’t deliver. This is deceitful, it’s harmful as it reduces public trust in government, and it breeds cynicism,” Friday charged.
He added that “Trust is important, believe in government…it’s time to stop it. The minister can’t just ignore it. He can’t just brush aside our critique as if though somehow we are being a pest raising the same issue every year. That’s because he brings the same problem every year; we can’t ignore it”.
He challenged Gonsalves to admit it if he can’t say where the money is coming from and to say that he presented a wish list of things that he would like to see happen but there isn’t enough money to do it, instead of giving the impression that he is going to do it.
Friday said that the best, honest and simplest approach is to prepare an accurate Estimate on what can realistically be achieved; and have the budget reduced from $1.44 billion to $1.27 billion, “because then you’re taking out the other receipts which you know is not going to be collected, that is only put there to pad and to balance the budget. “
He said that money is reflected in programmes that will not be funded, and after assessing the Estimates, the overall context is that roughly 15 per cent of the budget must be subtracted.
“In fact, I see here in the 2023 Estimates- I don’t know how this possibly could happen- you don’t have the money but yet you say that the approved Estimates for 2022 was $265 million in other receipts, but the revised Estimates suggested that it went up to $279 million, how’s that possible when you don’t collect at all?
Unless that figure is just simply a balancing device used to essentially… to try to fool people,” Friday challenged.
He said he hopes that no programmes will be cut from the Budget so that all Vincentians can benefit from the future plans that the government wishes to implement.