Budget talks between the government and opposition appear to be effectively dead with APNU spokesman on finance Carl Greenidge saying that the time available between now and the laying of the budget leaves no opportunity for meaningful and full discussions even as the government accused the coalition of being “dishonest” about proposed talks.
With the opposition holding a one-seat majority, the government would need their votes to pass the Budget and avoid cuts as happened in the past two years. For the past two years, the opposition parties have asked to be part of the full budget-making process. This has not yet happened, and the 2012 and 2013 budgets were cut by the opposition. After last year’s cut the opposition parties argued that it could have been avoided if they were asked to participate in the budget talks. Any talks for this year’s budget appear to have been bogged down as the two sides exchanged salvoes over their participation.
At a news conference on Friday, President Donald Ramotar said that the opposition’s decision not to participate in discussions on this year’s budget is regrettable since government has provided them with all of the relevant documentation they requested.
Leader of A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) David Granger and Alliance for Change (AFC) Leader Khemraj Ramjattan have both said that it is too late to have such talks since the budget has already been decided. Ramjattan said that he had asked for a tripartite approach to setting the budget since last July but the government is yet to invite them to such a meeting. On Friday, the President said he had been informed by Finance Minister Dr. Ashni Singh that efforts were made to bring the opposition into the decision-making process. Ramotar said that according to his information, members of both opposition parties were supplied with the documentation they required, and their decisions not to attend meetings on the budget were no fault of the government.
Nevertheless, Ramotar said that the doors for discussion on the budget will remain open.
However, Greenidge, in a letter to the finance minister dated January 20th, referred to a January 13th letter by Singh inviting the opposition parties to suggest a date for a meeting on the 2014 budget during that or this week. “You may recall that during the course of the last meeting of November 14th to which you made reference, you had undertaken to provide some information and relating to the Budget circular and on your comments on the proposed Budget process presented by me on behalf of the Opposition Parties, within a week, as a prelude to fixing a subsequent meeting on substantive matters,” he wrote.
“The process, unlike that for the previous budget meetings was intended to explicitly take account of the need for dialogue which means that it was to involve a series of sessions rather than a one-off or ad hoc session. You had undertaken to either offer an alternative process to those I proposed in my letter of Sept 9th or to adhere to that process save for a few refinements which you said had been prepared and you would shortly be in a position to provide in writing. In the light of your failure to honour your undertaking I wrote you on November 28th Indicating that I could no longer proceed with the discussions even if you now did as promised and informing you that I had referred, by a copy of that communication, the matter to the three Party leaders and their teams,” Greenidge wrote.
He said that he had not heard from the leaders and was not aware that they have considered the matter individually let alone collectively in the tripartite forum. “The time available between now and the laying of the Budget, even if the latter were laid at the end of March, leaves no opportunity for meaningful and full discussions. We would therefore be condemned to relive the fiasco, with the same consequences including acrimony and disappointment that passed for discussions in 2012 and 2013,” he said.
“I cannot in good conscience therefore suggest to either of the Opposition Parties any further meetings at our level on this matter,” Greenidge wrote.
Meantime, Dr. Singh, in a January 18 statement referring to an article published in the Kaieteur News headlined ‘APNU says it’s being sidelined from Budget consultation- will force implementation of reforms if concerns not taken on board,’ labelled it a “blatant lie” and “cheap publicity stunt.” The article reported on an interview with Granger. The minister said that his January 13 email invited the opposition to meet on the budget and contained copies of documents to be discussed, but the invitation was met with “stony silence” by Granger and Greenidge. “It is also important to note that this is not the first invitation that has been issued to the Opposition to discuss the 2014 Budget as a Government team has already initiated discussions with the Opposition in the latter part of 2013,” Singh said.
“I do not wish to speculate on whether this was a case of an internal breakdown in communication in the leadership of APNU between Messrs. Greenidge and Granger, but the fact of the matter is that the Government of Guyana has issued an invitation to the Opposition to meet and that invitation has not received a response. Instead the Opposition appears more interested in engaging in attacks in the media and political grandstanding, regrettably based on misrepresentation of the facts,” he added.
The minister said that government remains open to meet with the opposition as has always been the case and they look forward to a response by APNU to the invitation to advance discussion on Budget 2014.