MINISTER OF Finance, Dr. Ashni Singh said yesterday it is clear that the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU)’s coverage on Guyana has been hijacked by partisan domestic political operatives.
His observation was in response to both an article and the editorial in the June 25, 2010 edition of the Stabroek News on the EIU’s latest report on Guyana.
Minister Singh went on to say that it was most unfortunate that the EIU, a Unit whose publications have come to be expected to be objective and competently prepared, would allow itself to be misled and misinformed by one or two political aspirants and spokespersons who pose as independent correspondents and commentators. He said that as a result of their being misled, the EIU’s recent reports on Guyana paint a misinformed, distorted, warped, and totally inaccurate picture of economic developments in Guyana.
Given the obvious flaws in the report, Minister Singh is calling on the EIU to take a closer look at the credibility, integrity, and competence of the correspondents and sources used to generate their coverage on Guyana.
He cited as an example of the EIU’s flawed findings its comments on growth in the Guyanese economy. According to the Stabroek News, the EIU report sought to question the growth rate of 2.3 per cent reported by the government for 2009, and arbitrarily and without any technical basis offered a different estimate of growth in the Guyanese economy for last year. The report also attempted to question what was driving the growth achieved in Guyana.
Minister Singh’s response to these queries was that they sounded “suspiciously familiar,” and appear to be “a passive copy-and-paste echo of the whining and griping of a tiny minority of self-appointed and politically motivated analysts who are devoid of any technical basis for most of what they say, and who like to style themselves as independent when they are in fact unabashedly partisan and brazenly hostile to the current administration.”
The Minister went on to say that the basis for the 2009 growth estimate reported by Government is set out clearly in sector-specific detail in his budget speech for 2010, and in the central bank annual report for 2009, both of which are publicly available.
For example, it is public knowledge that sugar production amounted to 233,736 tonnes of sugar in 2009 compared with 226,267 tonnes in 2008, representing growth of 3.3 percent. It is public knowledge that rice production amounted to 359,789 tonnes in 2009 compared with 329,574 tonnes in 2008, representing 9.2 percent growth. It is public knowledge that the gold sector generated total declarations of 299,822 ounces in 2009 compared with 261,424 ounces in 2008, growth of 14.7 percent.
In summary, the Minister stated that the sugar, rice, and gold sectors, all of which continue to be large and dominant sectors in the Guyanese economy, grew by 3.3 percent, 9.2 percent, and 14.7 percent respectively, based on hard and incontrovertible numbers compiled and reported by the respective sectors themselves, not by the Ministry of Finance.
“These numbers are sourced from the sectors themselves and can be verified directly with those sectors. The sugar production numbers are sourced from the Guyana Sugar Corporation, the rice production numbers from the Guyana Rice Development Board, the gold production numbers from the Guyana Gold Board,” the Minister emphasised, adding that “it is nothing short of absurd and dishonest to call into question these numbers, and it is an insult to the integrity of the large number of persons involved in the respective sectors in data collection and monitoring activities”.
Apart from the production data from the large sectors, there are other data sources that reconfirm and validate the growth in output being observed. For example, domestic credit to the private sector expanded by 5.7 percent from $89.3 billion to $94.4 billion, as compiled and reported by the Bank of Guyana, with increased lending for real estate and household mortgages, agriculture, and services.
During 2009, Government increased the ceiling on mortgages granted by the New Building Society by 50 percent from $8 million to $12 million, and the ceiling on loans granted by participating commercial banks in Government’s low income housing programme by 300 percent from $2 million to $8 million, thereby stimulating increased lending for housing construction.
Throughout the world, it is known that increased lending to the private sector by the banking system, and in particular construction activity such as for housing purposes, fuel significant economic activity and bring rapid growth.
These facts are all publicly known, and the attempt by Stabroek News in its editorial to use the EIU report, which is itself misled, to call into question statistics produced by several agencies and involving dozens if not hundreds of professionals across Guyana, is an outrageous and blatant attempt to mislead the people of this country.
“The insinuations made by Stabroek News on the accuracy of the statistics are a shameless assault on the integrity of professionals and functionaries in several agencies throughout our country, including on the private sector,” the Minister added.
Gold production for 2009, for example, was estimated by the private sector gold producers themselves, the Guyana Gold and Diamond Miners Association at 300,000 ounces, a matter of public record. So, to call into question the gold production numbers is not only to cast aspersions on the Government agency involved, the Guyana Gold Board, but is also to cast aspersions on the private sector producers in the sector. The same applies to every other sector.
In like manner, the report ignores public pronouncements made by senior members of the private sector who have lauded the collaboration they have with Government, including through the National Competitiveness Council, and instead seeks to insinuate opinions into the minds of members of the private sector.
The Stabroek News editorial actually provides important clues about these sources. The editorial reveals that the EIU report cited a Ram and McRae business outlook survey. This survey is widely known to be politically motivated, highly flawed, and designed to distort the facts and present a negative picture of Guyana under the current administration. The survey is not based on any scientific method, cannot withstand any rigorous scrutiny, and in its own introduction, confesses that it is “not designed to produce statistically valid findings”.
In addition, the main author of that survey and principal of the firm Ram and McRae is a self-confessed partisan politician, having co-authored the political manifesto for the main opposition party that lost the last general elections. Mr. Ram’s professional integrity and technical competence are also currently the subject of much public scrutiny and debate, including as a result of testimony provided by a private sector hotelier during a case currently being heard by the courts concerning Tower Hotel.