This was not a budget for poor people
Stabroek News – March 14, 2008
Twenty-four mainly grassroots women activists, Afro-Guyanese, Indo-Guyanese and Mixed participated in a spirited and focused workshop on economic issues organized by Red Thread to mark International Women’s Day, 2008. Red Thread decided to hold a non-public event because so many women, including women associated with our group, are grappling with the trauma of Lusignan and Bartica.
Moreover, in the present situation of acute economic distress for poor families, we wanted to mark IWD with an action that would better equip us as grassroots women activists to understand the budget and more generally, national economic policies and to step up our campaign against the effects they are having on our household economies.
In addition to Red Thread and the Red Thread network, Grassroots Women across Race (GWAR), one participant each came from Women Across Differences (WAD), UG Women’s Studies Unit, and CPIC Monique’s CHSC.
Ms. Eileen Cox of the Consumers Association attended part of the workshop but did not take part in the decisions. A woman journalist and an overseas volunteer with Red Thread also participated. The workshop was held at the Red Thread Crossroads Women’s Centre in Charlestown.
The format of the workshop was a presentation by Mr. Christopher Ram followed by Question & Answer and planning sessions. As requested, Mr. Ram presented on what the budget has and doesn’t have for poor people in Guyana and on other issues affecting the household economies of poor families. Following are the main issues which arose: . The absence of significant references to women and/or poverty in the Budget Speech. . The “over-collection” of revenue, given the government’s promise that VAT would be “revenue-neutral”; overall, revenue exceeded the budget by over 25% in 2007 – revenue from VAT by 76% and revenue from the Excise Tax by 21%.
The need to reduce the rate of VAT which had been calculated incorrectly. Mr. Ram recommended a reduction to 12% in order to generate the needed revenue while participants argued for a reduction to 8 % in order to ease the burden on poor families and on us as women who have to manage our household economies.
While we agreed that there were factors other than VAT contributing to the sharp rise in prices, especially of food, we also saw that the 16% VAT rate worsened what would have already been a bad situation. The difficulty of working out the real rate of inflation due to delayed reporting by the Bureau of Statistics and the Bank of Guyana; the official rate for 2007 was 14% but our lived experience is that the rise was far, far higher than this.
The crisis in the NIS and the attempt to solve it by raising the age of benefit from 60 to 65, is an anti-working class proposal . The far-too-small rise in the private sector minimum wage set by the Minister of Labour and the need for a national minimum wage covering both the public and private sectors. . The far-too-small rise in public assistance and old age pension.
The need to consider a tax credit to poor people rather than increasing the tax threshold for all.
Race and economics: who is marginalized/discriminated against by race, by sex and and/or class?
We concluded that this was not a budget for poor people and that it is economic violence against women and poor people generally. In the workshop we also discussed how our tax system is biased against poor people (VAT, PAYE), while large companies are registered as self-employed, making it easier for them to avoid paying taxes on their income. The main proposals participants made were as follows:
1. Form a women’s working group on the economy (WAGE) to assess the impact of economic policies and developments on women and poor people/families generally. 2. Find ways to ensure that grassroots women understand the budget and the economy, and how they affect them.
3. Systematically monitor price changes.
4. Organize a speak out on economic issues within one month and include issues of marginalization and discrimination. Yours faithfully,
For Red Thread