OFFICIAL VOICE OF THE COMMUNIST PARTY OF CUBA CENTRAL COMMITTEE
Meeting of ministers presided by Army General Raúl Castro Ruz, President of the Councils of State and Ministers. Photo: Estudio Revolución

During the first six months of the year, the national economy's performance met projections made in plans for 2017, according to a report by Ricardo Cabrisas Ruiz, minister of Economy and Planning, who noted, "In order to fulfill the plan, work continues on the adoption of measures related to prioritized activities which are critical to the economy's vitality."

Among other elements, he indicated that 98% of planned investments are projected to be completed, and that efforts continue to concentrate on planning for a higher level of completion in the second part of the year, depending on the arrival of imported supplies and the fulfillment of contracts.

The principal areas of agricultural production report positive results, with vegetable yields surpassing projections. This was not, however, the case for milk or beef, which did not meet planned production goals, he indicated.

The transportation sector, especially the rail system, was impacted in terms of cargo, while production of unrefined sugar was 300,000 tons below projections, despite achieving an increase of 20% over last year.

In terms of tourism, Cabrisas reported that more than 2.26 million visitors had arrived to the island by the end of May, indicating growth in the industry of 20% as compared to the same period in 2016.

The negative economic impact of the severe drought affecting the country was explained. At the end of May, reservoirs supplying water to the population held on average 43% of their capacity, while those serving rice production areas stood at only 27%.

This situation has repercussions across the country, although it is most serious in the central provinces of Ciego de Ávila, Sancti Spíritus, Villa Clara and Camagüey. The impact continues across the eastern region, mainly Santiago de Cuba, Guantánamo, Holguín and Las Tunas, where the drought is in its third consecutive year.

The construction of diversion aqueducts and the linking of supply systems in the eastern part of the country, among other measures, have ensured the supply of water to the population. Referring to the state budget, Cabrisas indicated that during the first six months of 2017, "Gross revenue reached 53% of the annual plan, which was a result fundamentally of the positive performance of tax collections."

The fiscal deficit is expected to be below that planned for the period. Council of Ministers members approved the report on the economy's performance during the first half of 2017, which will be presented to the upcoming session of the National Assembly of People's Power, set for July 14, when more information will be made available to our people.

2016 STATE BUDGET SETTLEMENT

As is customary this time of year, Minister of Finances and Prices Lina Pedraza Rodríguez presented the close-out report on last year's state budget, which confirmed a lower deficit than that approved by the National Assembly of People's Power.

She noted that social services were funded at levels similar to 2015, saying,

"The sectors of Education, Public Health, and Social Assistance represented 50% of out of pocket expenses in budgeted activity."

More than 200 million medical and dental consultations were provided, and significant resources were devoted to hygiene and the elimination of disease carrying vectors.

The budget likewise covered expenses incurred as a result of measures adopted by the revolutionary government to repair damage caused by Hurricane Matthew to homes, schools, roads, water systems, and communications infrastructure, etc.

In the particular case of support to those who lost their homes, Pedraza Rodríguez cited the 50% discount on purchases of building materials; the granting of credit at low interest rates; and the approval of subsidies for families without the means to qualify for loans.

Comptroller General Gladys Bejerano Portela addressed the meeting to report on recent audits conducted as part of the 2016 budget close-out process and to support planning for this year.

In all cases, she said, the efficiency of internal accounting systems was confirmed, and progress as compared to previous years was noted, although difficulties persist.

Bejerano emphasized the need to continue improving accounting at the local level; strengthening the role of municipal governments in supervising and controlling the execution of their budgets; as well as ensuring compliance with terms established for payments.

Participants in the meeting likewise voted to present the Budget Settlement report to the National Assembly, during its next session.

AWARDING OF IDLE LANDS IN USUFRUCT

The Council of Ministers approved modifications to policies regarding the awarding of idle state-owned land in usufruct, which will allow for continued progress in the implementation of this process.

Marino Murillo Jorge, head of the Policy Guidelines Implementation and Development Permanent Commission , emphasized that since these policies were first put into practice in 2008, through 2016, some 917,000 hectares have been distributed, representing 31% of the country's agricultural land.

He indicated that applications for idle lands have slowed, since areas that are still available tend to be less fertile; infested with marabou; distant from population centers and basic services; or with limited accessible water supplies.

The policy indicating that lands awarded in usufruct remain non-transferable state property was reaffirmed, along with the requirement that they be maintained under cultivation, with the soil properly conserved to avoid loss of fertility.

The modifications approved extend the validity of land grants from 10 to 20 years for individuals, which can be extended for periods of the same length.

Murillo reported that provisions were needed to add the use of illicit funds as cause for cancellation of a grant, and to strengthen the concept that, in order to receive a grant, individuals must administer and work the land, personally and directly.

He likewise reported that contributions contemplated in tax laws on the use, possession, and idle holding of land will gradually begin to be collected.

IMPROVING SELF-EMPLOYMENT

With the purpose of improving self-employment, announced during the meeting were a group of measures which will contribute to better organization and control of this modality of work, in which more than half a million people are employed.

This reality, Murillo said, confirms this modality as an important source of jobs, which has expanded the availability of goods and services, with an acceptable level of quality.

He noted that, nevertheless, defects in the design of policies have become evident, with respect to the use of prime materials and equipment of illicit origin; tax evasion and under-reporting of income; inaccurate and poor accounting; and irregularities in the contracting of goods and services by incorporated entities and individuals.

The Cuban press will provide more details on this subject as part of the planned informational campaign which will accompany the implementation of these modifications.

NON-AGRICULTURAL COOPERATIVES

After four years of experience with non-agricultural cooperatives, and several evaluations of the experimental process, un update on this modality of economic management was presented to the Council of Ministers.

According to the report, to be prioritized at this time are efforts to consolidate the 429 such cooperatives functioning in the country.

During a study of their operations, it was noted that, in some cases, deviations from the original concepts were detected, as well as a lack of rigor in follow-up, supervision, and auditing; a tendency to raise prices; and the use of bank credit for purposes different from those for which a loan was granted.

Nonetheless, it was confirmed that non-agricultural cooperatives constitute an alternative to free the state from the responsibility of administering some productive activities and services, which are not considered key to the national economy. It was therefore agreed that the experiment will continue to gain experience, correct deviations, and obtain needed results.