Budget sub-committee fails to fly

-gov't, opposition trade blame, $9.3B cut from estimates

With some $9.3B of estimated expenditure already cut from government proposed $220B national budget, the Committee of Supply sub-committee mechanism suggested by House Speaker Raphael Trotman to facilitate negotiations on contentious estimates is not producing the intended results.

In fact, since Trotman suggested the mechanism on Wednesday, the committee is yet to meet to hold negotiations on any issue, although estimates for projects under several ministries have already been rejected by the opposition parties in the Committee of Supply, which started the consideration of estimates.

The People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C), and the opposition parties – A Partnership for Unity (APNU), and the Alliance for Change (AFC)-yesterday continued to lash out at each other over the situation, with PPP/C General Secretary Clement Rohee saying that the opposition’s actions reflected an obsession to see the country regress, while the AFC suggested that the government has sabotaged its own budget by lumping contentious sums with the non-contentious ones. APNU, meanwhile, warned that the budget had the potential to dangerously divide Guyana into two nations – one poorer and one richer.

On Wednesday, Trotman proposed the formation of the sub-committee of the Committee of Supply, to create a space for contentions over the estimates to be ventilated, and common ground to be found. However, the opposition has its superior numbers to vote down some key allocations, including the $6.5 billion Cheddi Jagan International Airport modernisation project, the $1.1 billion Amerindian Development Programme; $910 million for the Specialty Hospital and with other allocations linked to them, there was much collateral damage. In total, $9.3B in allocations have been rejected in the Committee of Supply.

In a brief conversation with Stabroek News this week, Trotman conceded that he did not believe that the sub-committee set up would do anything to change the stand-off between government and the opposition parties with regard to the budgetary estimates. Trotman said he nevertheless wanted to initiate a mechanism to allow negotiation, and possibly, consensus.

Speaking with Stabroek News yesterday, Government Whip Gail Teixeira explained that though members of the political parties had met with Trotman on Wednesday to create a mechanism through which the sub-committee can work, a meeting is yet to take place.

On Wednesday, she said, it was decided that the opposition parties would submit estimates they found unfavourable by 9am; ahead of a meeting which was to take place at midday. At that meeting, Teixeira elaborated, the various sides were supposed to engage in negotiations in the hope of finding an amicable outcome. She said government initially proposed that the opposition parties submit all the areas they disapproved of, but this proposal was turned down.

Teixeira said that APNU submitted documents outlining areas of contention very late on Thursday, by which time a meeting before the National Assembly met at 2pm was impossible. In the documents, she said, the APNU indicated disagreement with four headings under various agencies. The areas included estimates for provisions towards community policing, the Amerindian Development Fund and the Specialty Hospital.

Important to note, she said, is the fact that APNU, in the document, indicated non-support of particular estimates, thereby closing the doors to negotiations on the matter before the committee had met to hold discussions.

Offering a different reason for the government’s non-partnership on the meeting, PPP/C General Secretary Clement Rohee yesterday told a press conference that government made a conscious decision not to be part of the mechanism as it is inconsistent with the Standing Orders.

The sub-committee, Rohee explained, was birthed from the opinion of the Speaker without the government’s consultation, and he said government reserves the right to determine whether it should or should not participate in a body established without due consultation.

Meanwhile, APNU Leader David Granger yesterday told reporters that the coalition was waiting on government on Thursday morning to have discussions but its representatives did not show up.

Whatever the reason, the meeting to be held on Thursday did not take place and the National Assembly voted that estimates for initiatives under the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Public Works and Communication, and the Amerindian Affairs Ministry would not stand as part of the estimates when the National Assembly votes on the 2014 Appropriations Bill.

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