Almost invariably in discussing recent mid-year reports which the Minister is required to present to the National Assembly under Section 67(1) of the Fiscal Management and Accountability (FM&A) Act 2003, I have made two broad prefatory comments. The first is that it is always misdated.
The Act requires that the report be presented “within sixty days” after the end of the half-year. The second is that comparing it with the half-year report of the Bank of Guyana submitted to the Minister of Finance long before he completes his own report, is like comparing cheese with brick. In content, comprehensiveness and quality they are poles apart.
In 2007, the first full year of tenure of this Minister of Finance the mid-year report was not presented until late November. Subsequent years have seen some wide disparity, none of which however met the deadline, notwithstanding the mis-stating of the date on the reports themselves.
This year the Minister, who was cited by AFC MP attorney-at-law Khemraj Ramjattan for misleading the National Assembly in the small matter of the payment of $4 billion to GuySuCo, dates his report August 27, 2010 two days before the statutory deadline. Until I’m convinced, I shall withhold my congratulations for timely presentation.
As readers are aware the Speaker of the National Assembly Mr Ralph Ramkarran said he did not find a prima facie case against the Minister in the GuySuCo matter although he did find one against the Minister of Housing and Water, despite the Minister of Finance being at least an accessory if the accusation is in fact upheld.
However, it must also be said that the Minister does his reputation no good by the wide disparity between the dates he places on the reports and the dates on which they are tabled.
Breaks and gaps
Since it is routine for reports to be lodged with the Parliament Office between recesses, the Minister would be well advised to lodge the report as soon as it is completed, and issue a press statement to that effect. He can add that “unfortunately, the contents of the report cannot be released until I have had the opportunity to lay it in the National Assembly.” He must also not issue any instructions to the Bank of Guyana or the Bureau of Statistics to withhold their own publications until his report is tabled.
To place in some context what the report should include but does not, I can only draw attention to the concluding part of my commentary on the 2009 mid-year report published in December 2009. I noted there that the mid-year report required more than the year-to-date execution of the annual budget. It requires the report to set out the prospects for the remainder of the year. It also mandates the inclusion of a revised economic outlook for the rest of the year, a statement of the projected impact of the trends on the remainder of the year, and very importantly, a list of major fiscal risks for the second half of the year with likely policy responses that the government proposes to take to meet the expected circumstances.
It was clear then and is more egregious now that the report presented by the Minister falls very short of the requirements of the Act. The result is a report of very limited use and, for any serious reader, when compared with that of the Bank of Guyana, of no practical use.
The best and the brightest
As if to prove that one can fool some of the people all the time, some time in early July, the Parliamentary Sectoral Committee on Economic Services suggested in its fifth Periodic Report that it was likely to recommend that the National Assembly extend the deadline for the submission of the mid-year financial report by the Finance Ministry.
The report suggested that a recommendation be made to the National Assembly that the FMAA be amended to allow for the extension of the deadline for submission to October 9 to coincide with the end of the parliamentary recess. In fact, the committee noted that all the data necessary to compile the mid-year report would not be available by the end of June/early July. Well how much more misinformed can a parliamentary committee be! The deadline is the end of August, not June or July and the committee must have heard of the billion dollar software (IFMAS) in which the government has invested that allows for considerable real time data availability.
And while that ill-informed suggestion would have been music to the ears of the Minister, it is clearly not reading from the same song-sheet as the Chairperson of the Public Accounts Committee Chairperson, Ms Volda Lawrence, who in relation to the 2007 report called the delayed report scenario “gross disrespect” for the people of Guyana and said that it was time people stopped taking such behaviour sitting down.
For purposes of this column and for reasons mentioned in the first paragraph, this column relies on the report of the Bank of Guyana rather than that of the Minister, although it must be said that unlike 2009, the two reports agree on the GDP growth statistics.
The economy showed what the Bank of Guyana described as modest growth of 2.8 per cent during the first half of 2010. Significantly, the government has now revised the budgeted growth in 2010 from 4.4% to 2.9% for the full year. This would represent the lowest rate of growth in the economy since 2006. In his report, the Minister gave no reason for the significantly lower growth projections, a lacuna that pervades his entire report. And to ensure that they rhyme this year, the Bank of Guyana also projects a 2.9% growth for full year 2010 without indicating whether this is its own estimate of merely a repetition of the Minister’s.
The National Income Accounts was last year rebased to 2006 and until some pattern has emerged it is difficult to assess any one of those indicators.
It would have been useful for the Minister to comment on the impact of the rebased national accounts on the growth statistics particularly in the light of the attention and issues raised by Professor Clive Thomas in his recent columns under captions such as ‘Magnification or manipulation’ and ‘Statistical illusion or real changes’ in the Sunday Stabroek of October 3 and 10, 2010 respectively.
The growth in the economy was attributed to improved performances in the agriculture and services sectors. The livestock and bauxite industries experienced a decline in output while a stable performance was registered in the manufacturing sector.
For the first half of the year sugar output was 81,864 tonnes, 1.8 per cent lower than the level at end June 2009 – the year of the turnaround plan – and represented 29.0 per cent of the 280,000 tonnes targeted for 2010. The Bank of Guyana explained that the adverse outturn was due to unfavourable weather conditions in the first quarter of the year which affected cane transport, replanting and irrigation of planted canes.
From an original 2010 target of 280,000 tonnes, the Minister of Finance has announced a revised target of 260,000 tonnes, which would confuse the GAWU members who are being told that their target is 264,000 tonnes. This is not the only confusion in the industry. While the Minister of Finance announces that “works continue on the turnaround plan which would see the realisation of increased acreage under cultivation and improvements in the cane to sugar ratio, the President is expressing fears about the future of the industry due to the failures of “a few individuals.”
Rice output was 168,267 tonnes, 4.6 per cent more than the corresponding 2009 level and represented 49.0 per cent of the 343,373 tonnes target for 2010. The improved performance has to be seen however against the significant amount of “government assistance,” a euphemism for subsidy to the sub-sector, to cushion the effects of the dry weather spell.
Bauxite, another industry that receives wide and valuable government support, saw a decline in its performance which helped to produce in the mining sector a 4.1 per cent decline in growth in real terms. The Bank of Guyana explains that the outcome reflected the decrease in bauxite and diamond output, due to the fall in demand and the “decline in motivated workers.” One cannot but help notice the contrasting attitude of the government to rice/sugar and bauxite, although the government would stoutly challenge any suggestion that ethnicity and politics play a part.
Gold and dollars
Gold again remains an outstanding contributor to the economy and but for its performance the real economy would more than likely have experienced negative growth. Yet, the government continues to hem and haw and dilly-dally on recognising that gold-mining is a key sector that warrants serious attention.
Total gold declarations increased by 8.1 per cent to 142,212 ounces and were 46.0 per cent of the 311,816 ounces targeted for the year. Gold remains by far the largest single export earner with export receipts amounting to US$146.7 million, 22.4 per cent or US$26.8 million more than the June 2009 level. The average export price per ounce increased by 26.3 per cent to US$1061.2 per ounce while export volume declined by 3.2 per cent to 138,242 ounces.
After a much-hyped improvement in the exchange rate of the Guyana Dollar to its US counterpart, the Guyana dollar, vis-à-vis the US dollar, depreciated by 0.25 per cent compared with an appreciation of 0.37 per cent at end-June 2009. According to the Bank of Guyana, the relative stability of the currency is supported by an adequate flow of foreign exchange to the market. It did not add however that the US Dollar itself has been depreciating against some major countries, so the comparison of the Guyana Dollar to the US Dollar is not an accurate measure.
A seemingly unrelated issue is the attraction to keep money in Guyana rather than converting and exporting it to another currency. Interest paid to holders of bank deposits decreased by 17.0 per cent in 2010, showing increases in domestic expenditure. This means that while depositors’ funds in the banking system are increasing their returns are decreasing. That cannot be good news either for the exchange rate or depositors, though it must be added that the extent of the decrease is quite surprising.
The NIS also gets a mention by the Bank of Guyana but not the Minister under whose portfolio it falls. The National Insurance Scheme’s (NIS) receipts grew by 12.3 per cent to G$5,328 million as contributions rose by 9.7 per cent to G$4,633 million, and receipts from debtors grew by 91.3 per cent to G$437 million. While the decline in investment income by 10.8 per cent to G$259 million gets a mention, nothing has been said of the increased benefit payments and the status of the 2008 financial statements and annual report. These are languishing on the desk of the Minister of Finance and not being tabled in the National Assembly as the law requires, an indirect casualty of the Clico debacle.
And the debt spree continues as both domestic and external borrowings continue into the stratosphere. The stock of domestic and external public debt increased by 13.2 per cent (to G$94,760 million), and 12.1 per cent (to US$966 million), respectively from end-June 2009 level. The former is attributed to an increase in the issuance of treasury bills to sterilize excess liquidity, while the latter is due to disbursements from the IDB and bilateral credit delivered under the PetroCaribe Initiative. Both domestic and external debt services were higher on account of higher principal and interest payments.
External debt service increased by a substantial 80.4 per cent to US$12 million from its end-June 2009 level, made up of principal and interest payments amounting to US$6.4 million and US$5.8 million respectively.
The cost of carrying GuySuCo and other public sector entities while the government itself engages in some seriously costly and wasteful expenditure, is borne out by the overall cash deficit of Non-Financial Public Enterprises (NFPEs), including the Guyana Power & Light (GPL) and the NIS. This increased to G$5,026 million at end-June 2010 compared with a deficit of G$721 million in June 2009.
The result of these is that current operating cash balances of the NFPEs moved from a surplus of G$2,298 million to a deficit of G$2,097 million at end-June 2010. This decline was mainly due to a 26.7 per cent increase in expenditure which more than offset a 14.0 per cent growth in revenue.
That perhaps, even more than over-taxing the people of this country, is the story of the financial management of the public sector of Guyana in the first half of 2010.