Not a ‘marginal’ reduction in population

The 2012 census data are now out. The report shows that Guyana’s population has dropped to 747,884, down from 751,223 recorded for 2002. Taking an arithmetic approach Chief Statistician and Census Officer Lennox Benjamin calculates and describes the decline of 3,339 as a “marginal reduction.”

I would have had no difficulty with our Chief Statistician if he had simply provided the figures and let analysts and commentators consider their implications, or himself do so. In a matter involving so many components it is misleading, even dangerously so, to take two bald figures, subtract one from the other and then make a qualitative judgement therefrom about substantial or marginal. Mr Benjamin then adds the gratuitous comment that the “marginal reduction” was “mainly influenced by migration.”

There is nothing marginal about the numbers. If we add to the population of 751,223 persons in 2002 the 124,805 representing the number of births over deaths over the same period, the population at 2012 should have been 876,028 persons. In other words, we have lost at a minimum 128,144 persons. I describe this as minimum because over the past 10 years Guyana has attracted an indeterminate number of mainly Brazilians and Chinese at a rate not experienced by this country for more than 70 years.

If the number of inward immigrants is put conservatively at 1,000 persons per annum, it means that Guyana has lost a staggering 138,144 persons to outward migration, on a population that is less than three-quarters of a million.

Surely, surely it is time for those who manage this country to reflect on the causes why Guyanese are still leaving this country in droves and on the implications for the country of its best, brightest, most productive and ablest persons opting to leave.

I will review more fully the preliminary report on the 2012 census this weekend.

Potential financial crisis looms

My blog of April 20, 2014 was captioned Doubts about Government respecting the budget non-approvals. That e-column followed the passage of the Appropriation Act 2014 introduced by the Minister of Finance and passed on April 16, 2014. In that column, I noted that the passage of the Appropriation Bill had given way to skepticism, suspicion and speculation and I expressed three possible responses by the Government: returning to the courts; bringing the first Supplementary Appropriation Bill for 2014 to restore the noncontroversial items which were victims of collateral damage, or thirdly that the Minister of Finance would “simply release the funds that [had] been removed by the Opposition and accepted by the Government in the amended Appropriation Act.”

It is now known that the government, through the Minister of Finance, chose to spend public moneys on items in programmes that had been specifically rejected by the National Assembly. Last Thursday, by way of Bill No 12 of 2014 the Minister presented to the National Assembly for rubberstamping $610,404,711 for current expenditure and $3,943,357,280 for expenditure under the capital programme, a total of $4,553,761,991.

In today’s e-column I seek to explore whether the Minister of Finance has acted properly, legally and constitutionally and the potential consequences of his action which one presumes he pursued on the advice of the Attorney General Mr. Anil Nandlall. According to the Bill presented by the Minister which comes up for debate and approval/non-approval next Thursday, the expenditure is authorized under Article 219 of the Constitution and sections 24 and 41 of the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act. I have serious doubts about that. But let us look at each of them.
Continue reading Potential financial crisis looms

Guyana must comply with CCJ’s ruling on the “environmental” tax

On May 8, the Caribbean Court of Justice handed down a decision in a case against Guyana brought by a Surinamese manufacturing company Rudisa Beverages & Juices N.V. and its Guyana subsidiary Caribbean International Distributors Inc. In essence the two companies were claiming a refund of what is called under the Guyana’s Customs Act an environmental tax of $10 on the importation of non-returnable beverage containers. The two companies asked the regional court which is the protector of the Revised Treaty of Chagauramas (RTC) among other things, to order Guyana to refund to them the sum of US$6,047,244.47 paid by them to the GRA up to 24th October 2013 and any further amounts paid since that date.

After submissions and arguments which began in June last year, the Court:

A) Declared that the collection of the environmental tax in relation to goods of CARICOM origin is incompatible with the RTC; and

B) Ordered Guyana to:

i) Immediately cease the collection of environmental tax on imported non-returnable beverage containers;

ii) Pay to CIDI the sum of US$6,047,244.47 together with such further sums paid by them from 25th October 2013 to the date of this judgement;

iii) Pay interest on the sums payable by this judgement at the rate of 4% per annum from the date of the judgement; and

iv) Pay the costs of these proceedings to be taxed if not agreed.
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Appointing Senior Counsel – wrong priority, wrong approach

Depending on the background and interest of who one asks, their responses to identify the principal challenges facing the legal system could include the length of time cases take to conclude; the non-pursuit of cases because the victims don’t want to proceed; the unscrupulousness of some lawyers, especially when dealing with “vulnerable” clients; for groups who deal with women and child victims of violence, the willingness of many lawyers to defend their client by subjecting the victim to a second abuse; and access to justice.

Those with a greater familiarity with the legal system may identify the thousands of cases still to be scheduled for hearing by the courts (a case of justice delayed being justice denied); the non-functioning of the Judicial Service Commission, charged by the Constitution with responsibility to make recommendations on the appointment of judges and for the appointment, discipline and removal of the majority of senior judicial officers; the inordinate delay by some judges in providing written decisions despite the passage of legislation to remedy this mischief; the quality of submissions by attorneys and the resulting quality of the decisions by the courts; and misconduct by attorneys at law – senior and junior – including the egregious violations of the code of practice for attorneys prescribed by law.
Continue reading Appointing Senior Counsel – wrong priority, wrong approach

Stats Bureau should be doing far more to explain questionable GDP numbers

It was refreshing to see the letter by Chief Statistician Mr. Lennox Benjamin `Challenge of country’s growth estimate was undertaken without single reference to the economy’s sectoral sources of expansion’ (Stabroek News, May 4, 2014). Mr. Benjamin was responding to a letter in the Stabroek News of April 26, 2014 “challeng[ing] the Minister to illustrate to the nation how he arrived at the 5 per cent GDP growth rate reported in his 2014 Budget Speech”. In support of their conclusion “that the 5 per cent growth rate was an act of economic illusion”, the writers of the first letter drew attention to an overall balance of payments deficit of US$119.5 million compared to a surplus of US$32.9 million in 2012.

In his response Mr. Benjamin states that if the writers have doubts on the figures, they must say what the numbers should be. Mr. Benjamin is confusing the duty of the Stats Bureau to produce accurate and timely information with the right of the public to question the information and to ask for explanations. For example, the Stats Bureau reported an inflation rate of 0.9% in 2013, which as Mr. Benjamin knows is not a national inflation rate but an Urban Consumer Price Index for Georgetown only. The so-called inflation rate of 0.9% for 2013 not only defies all logic but is inconsistent with and unsupported by the several different specific and complementary measures and indicators to which Mr. Benjamin himself refers.
Continue reading Stats Bureau should be doing far more to explain questionable GDP numbers