– Opposition concerned about beneficiaries, those to be affected
Government used its one-seat majority in the National Assembly to amend the Motor Vehicle and Road Traffic Act, which will see, among other things, increased fees for drivers’ licences and motor vehicle fitness, despite objections from the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) Opposition.
Opposition MP Juan Edghill
PPP/C Parliamentarian Anil Nandlall
Finance Minister Winston Jordan
Finance Minister Winston Jordan presented the Bill for the second reading at the 34th sitting of the National Assembly on Friday.
According to the Minister, in just nine months in office, his Administration cumulatively increased Old Age Pension by 38.7 per cent, showing its commitment to share the wealth as the country’s economy improves.
“We are trying to find ways of bring [the] good life to all citizens, regardless of their ages, by seeking to bring relief to persons 65 years and older who drive or have intention to drive for first time. They will be not visited with a fee for this pleasurable activity so I don’t believe that this part of the Bill will necessarily attract any negatives from our (Opposition) colleagues; neither do I think the second aspect of the Bill will,” he stated.
As it relates to that section of the amendments; that is, increasing the licence fees for vehicles under this Act, Jordan noted that Government is seeking to improve the cost sharing aspect. He stressed that there was some tardiness in not reviewing the rates in the past 20 plus years.
“We need to have in place a mechanism that will periodically review the rates so that the burden is evenly smoothed out, instead of appearing as a lump sum,” he stated.
However, the amendments to this piece of legislation were not passed without the People’s Progressive Party/C (PPP/C) Opposition raising their concerns.
Opposition parliamentarian Juan Edghill, highlighted the range of Guyanese that will be affected by the increases in the licensing fees and the manner in which they will be affected. He referred to the 2016 Budget presentation in which the Finance Minister said “Most of the measures, however, are designed to support our thrust of stimulating the economy while rekindling hope and confidence. These are essential ingredients towards attaining the good life.”
However, Edghill outlined that “stimulating” means to create activities, create interests and stir enthusiasm, which he said is missing in the “astronomical increases”. He pointed out that when Government seeks to increase fees, licences or taxes, then more than often ,it is the worker who feel the burden.
“When the licensing fees for the hire car man increases, it is the travelling public that will pay more. If the licensing fees for the canter truck or goods lorry increase, it is the man who seeking to move his two zinc sheets to repair his roof or the person who’s seeking to move his five sacks of cement to cast his porch or to do some maintenance on his house will pay more. Everything will be passed onto the worker and passed on in a context where the worker will not have any increases… (because the 2016 Budget) has not brought any benefits for the worker,” he stated.
Meanwhile, PPP front bencher Anil Nandlall in his presentation sought to address the removal of licence fees for senior citizens 65 years and older, which he welcomed. Nandlall noted that while the Opposition will never oppose any measure that brings relief to any grouping of Guyanese, the pool of people who will benefit from this exemption is too narrow.
He reflected on the electricity subsidy programme that his Administration had introduced but was cut by the coalition Government, which claimed that senior citizens from across the length and breathe of Guyana, particularly Amerindians and many on the coastland, did not benefit from it because they had no Guyana Power and Light (GPL) metres in their names.
“This measure which targets drivers who are 65-years and older targets a very narrow compass of persons,” Nandlall stated, while asking how many Amerindians, for example, will benefit from this measure.
“Could (the Finance Minister) say how many Amerindians 65-years and older from Orealla, from Aaishalton, in Waini, in Kaikan, at Kato will benefit? So, Sir, the point I’m making is that we cannot be so myopic in our focus. This, Sir, is intended to benefit a few numbers of urban pensioners… we are saying Sir, that these measures must extend right across the board,” the Opposition MP pleaded.
Nandlall went on to outline that not more than 10 persons from D’Edward Village, West Coast Berbice, where Government Chief Whip Amna Ally hails, will benefit from this measure; while not more than five from Whim, Corentyne, Berbice, where Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo is from, will benefit.
The Opposition’s rejection of Government’s approach of targeting “certain special groups” in society and further burdening the “already burdened”, were in vain as the Bill was examined in Committee of Supply, clause by clause before being passed in the National Assembly with the amendments proposed by Government.