As the year draws to a close, the main opposition, A Partnership for National Unity, remains hopeful that some agreement could be reached among the parliamentary parties to stave off a budget crisis next year and a meeting to discuss this is planned for within the next few days.
Following President Donald Ramotar’s decline of the Leader of the Opposition’s proposal to form a tripartite committee to address fundamental concerns about the upcoming budget, the APNU, as counter-requested by the Minister of Finance, made a number of proposals.
APNU MP Carl Greenidge said there has been no reply to the proposals the party has made.
Efforts to reach Minister of Finance Dr Ashni Singh and acting Cabinet Secretary Gail Teixeira proved futile. However, in early November, President Ramotar had said that up to that point there had been nothing to report on budget talks for 2013 with the parliamentary parties.
Leader of the Opposition David Granger said yesterday that the budget talks and the wider parliamentary party talks are complementary. “We stand ready to resume the tripartite talks and to [participate] in the tripartite budget committee,” he said.
Greenidge said APNU has had no response from Singh or Prime Minister Sam Hinds on the submissions the party made with regard to the 2013 budget. “I would expect [that we would have] a meeting early in the new year [to discuss the budget],” he said. Greenidge said APNU in the interest of transparency has shared its proposals to government with the Alliance for Change.
Speaking to this newspaper, Granger said, “I had actually written to the President [seeking for him] to establish a budget committee. He replied saying that he was not willing to do this, [but that we could make submissions].”
He said Singh subsequently wrote to him inviting him to a meeting to discuss the party’s budget proposals. “Consultations are not enough; there must be collaboration on the budget. It is regrettable that the government did not take this opportunity [for budget collaboration],” he said.
Granger said while there was a preoccupation with the protest and shooting incidents at Linden which led to a shift in focus, the APNU was always available for meetings with the other parties.
At an APNU press conference during last week, Granger said the tripartite talks had been derailed by the Linden crisis and that the parties had not met since the shooting. He noted the last tripartite meeting was in July.
He spoke of the need to discuss issues outside of the pressing matters of budget. “We are concerned about matters such as local government reform. It has become sterile because the government is not sincere about creating a platform for tripartite discussions especially on public finance.”
He said that this is manifested in the absence of a tripartite budget committee. “If we can’t deal with the budget in a tripartite manner it really doesn’t make much sense to deal with other issues because most issues have to be determined on a financial level and it is not happening. The blame is at the foot of the government because they have never really embraced inclusionary democracy and they have never been committed to national unity. They are trying to behave the way they did between 1992 and 2011,” Granger said.
To this end, the Opposition Leader said, the APNU is conducting an investigation into allegations that agencies whose funding were cut by the opposition during budget 2012 continued to spend and hire. “We are conducting investigations to know where that money came from and who authorised it,” he said.
“If in any instance it is found that the minister has spent money on any agency which was not authorised by the National Assembly, he could be sanctioned. The agencies for which allocations were cut are still carrying on merrily, getting money from somewhere else. Any minister found to be in breach of any decision of the National Assembly will be dealt with by the Committee of Privileges of the National Assembly,” said Granger.
Meanwhile, the Private Sector Commission is to have a meeting with the Ministry of Finance early in the New Year to iron out some of that body’s concerns about the upcoming budget. Speaking to Stabroek News, PSC Chairman Ron Webster said that a date was set during December but the bustle of the Christmas caused this meeting to be pushed back to January. “It is now to be held during the first or second week in January,” said Webster.
Asked what submissions the PSC would be making to the government for the budget, Webster said he was not prepared to make those disclosures. He said the PSC commissioned a consultant to do a study and the results of that consultancy are with the government. However, he said that while issues of tax reduction are always the expected request, those must happen in tandem with other factors. He said considerations around infrastructure are also among what the PSC is seeking come budget day.