Over $1.4 billion in supplementary funds already spent from the Contingen-cies Fund were yesterday approved by the National Assembly but not before government members were called upon by their opposition counterparts to justify the spending.
The Ministry of Finance sought some $276.3M in total subsidies for the Linden Electricity Com-pany Inc and Kwakwani Utilities Inc.
However, before approving the sums questions were raised by Committee of Supply member Carl Greenidge about the reason for more monies as over $7.5B was provided for in the 2013 budget.
Minister of Finance Dr. Ashni Singh explained that the figures given in the budget are only a projection of what was needed and that like those estimates the amounts either fall short of or are more than what was estimated. “We can’t anticipate with perfect foresight,” he said.
To provide assistance to the Philippines, Somalia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, St Lucia and Dominica, which have been affected by natural disasters, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs sought approval for $69.3M.
The Ministry of Local Government informed that due to the recent stoppage of tolls collected from the Kara Kara Bridge, the Linden municipality required an additional $9.2M. This represented $5.4M to pay the increase in minimum wages for October to December of 2013 and $3.8M to refund monies paid in salaries from Market Bank Accounts.
An additional $15M in subventions were approved for a cleanup campaign in the city since the Georgetown municipality did not have the required resources to undertake same. Also, $19.2 million and $13.5 million went to the Ministry of Education for clean-up exercises at schools countrywide and Minister Priya Manickchand later said that some of the money was for the clean-up of schools in Georgetown that were affected by flooding.
Minister of the Public Service Dr. Jennifer Westford explained to the house that one of the reasons her ministry sought approval for $50M was because of the rise in the exchange rate of the United States dollar to the Guyana dollar.
She said when the budget estimates were read in March, the currency was trading at GY$204 to US$1 but in the latter part of the year they had to pay as much as GY$209 to US$1.
Some $259.5M was sought by the Ministry of Agriculture for the provision of additional inflows specific to drainage and irrigation works, including control structures, gates culverts, bridges, pump stations and rehabilitation of channels and consultancy services.
Another $160M, Agriculture Minister Leslie Ramsammy explained, was incurred in relation to the execution of additional drainage and irrigation works, such as the cleaning of drains in Region 10, which was pegged at $20M.
APNU Member of Parliament Desmond Trotman requested that the Minister provide the house with a breakdown of spending for this project. Ramsammy promised to do so.
Home Affairs Minister Clement Rohee informed the House that $69M and $15M, respectively, were needed for increased travelling by ranks, especially to hinterland locations, and for the storage of dead bodies.
During questioning by AFC’s Valerie Garrido-Lowe, he explained that the skeletal remains that were being stored were those of the 2008 Lindo Creek massacre victims. Garrido-Lowe asked Rohee for information on the number of flights made by ranks and the pathologist and to which locations. He responded that he didn’t have the information but could get it from the police in two weeks.
Rohee later told the House that the bodies were stored at the funeral parlour as the police awaited the results of DNA tests that were being done in Jamaica.
He said that all the skeletal remains costs that were listed relate to the Lindo Creek victims.
Garrido-Lowe later pointed out the variation in the prices for storage of the remains ($7,616, 000 in 2008; $2,219,000 in 2009; $947,000 in 2010; $2, 903, 000 in 2011 and $1,344, 000 for 2012). Asked about the variations, Rohee was unable to account for them and gave an undertaking to find out from the funeral parlour.
Among the funds approved was $100M for expenditure incurred by the Guyana Defence Force, including $36M for repairs to vehicles in 2012. APNU MP Winston Felix inquired as to the age of the vehicles and questioned whether it didn’t make sense to “retire them” and purchase new ones.
When Minister within the Ministry of Finance Juan Edghill answered, Felix said that the response given was unsatisfactory and that his questions were not answered. Edghill later said that the vehicles—five pick-ups, one minibus, a motor bus and a car—were at least five years old. An additional $237M was also sought for the GDF for Joint Services operations.