Two per cent growth in the economy is wishful thinking

In looking to 2010, Business Page predicted that the 2010 Budget speech would make the economy’s decline of the first half year of 2009 into a full year growth. No sooner had I submitted that column than no less a person than the President himself, in his New Year’s message, reported “preliminary indications that the economy registered a positive growth rate of about 2% in 2009.” He was careful not to provide any support for such assessment, restricting his only specific comment to the sugar and bauxite sectors whose performance he described simply as “below expectations.”

But that limited comment is enough to caution even the most casual observer not to take the President’s assessment seriously. In November 2009, reporting a 1.4% decline in the economy for the first half of the year, the Minister of Finance reported a 19.3% half-year decline in sugar, a 6.7% decline in rice and flat performance in mining and quarrying. For the remainder of the year, the Minister expected the performance of rice to deteriorate and for mining and quarrying to do substantially worse than they did in the first half. We know too that bitter industrial relations since June 2009 ensured that sugar’s woes continued and, quite possibly, deteriorated in the second half of the year.

Even GuySuCo’s CEO, in his New Year message seemed keen to forget 2009 even as he expressed some optimism for 2010. If a miracle had in fact taken place and Guysuco had transformed a 19.3% decline in the first half of 2009 to a full year 10% growth, the corporation and the President would surely have noticed it.

The revised outlook for a 2.5% growth in real GDP, including all economic sectors, predicted in November by the Minister of Finance, was premised on the full-year growth (of 10%) in sugar – equivalent to a turnaround of 36% for sugar in the second half of the year! That simply did not take place and no other sector of significance could have made up for the loss. To put the numbers another way, non-sugar growth was expected to come in at 1.5%, so that the economy did substantially better than the Minister of Finance expected less than eight weeks ago.

The President’s assessment of an overall 2% growth seems more a mixture of wishful thinking, political rhetoric and self-vindication for his firewall assurance, than a serious, informed or honest assessment by someone trained in economics. Having done his political work, he has now placed the Minister of Finance, the Bank of Guyana and the Bureau of Statistics under immense pressure to produce numbers to vindicate yet another of his assessments.

They may oblige. It is hard to be confident about the integrity of the statistics coming out of a Stats Bureau that would not publish the monthly Georgetown price data it collects, usually doing so only after the Minister has announced suitably relevant numbers in his half-year report or his Budget speech. And the fiasco of conflicting rates of 2009 first half (un)real GDP growth, reported in the Business Page series (November/December), but which neither the Minister nor the Bank considered worthy of a public explanation, has similarly affected the credibility of both the Bank of Guyana and the Minister of Finance.

It seems to me that in relation to statistics on the economy and financial information coming out of the government, 2010 will be no different from 2009 and before.

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