The Committee of Supply last evening approved more than $17.5 billion for a number of agencies, including the Guyana Defence Force, the Office of the Ombudsman and Parliament Office.
The opposition did not raise any objections to allocations of $7.92 billion to the Guyana Defence Force, $35 million to the Office of the Ombudsman, $4.6 billion to the Office of the Prime Minister, $1.43 billion to the Parliament Office and $3.4 billion to the Foreign Affairs Ministry.
The consideration of these estimates lasted for just over an hour. The estimates of the GDF and the Office of the Prime Minister were approved without a single question being asked by a member of the opposition. However, the allocation for the Public Service Appellate Tribunal, drew scrutiny, since it has not been in operation.
Under the agency, Office of the Ombudsman, APNU member Basil Williams asked for the designation of the five new contracted employees listed. Prime Minister and Minister of Parliamentary Affairs Samuel Hinds, in response, identified those persons as a registry officer, typist clerk, confidential secretary, administrative assistant, office assistant and assistant accountant.
Williams asked for a breakdown of $11.5 million, which was listed under “other” in the category of other goods and services purchased. Hinds told the House that that sum caters for investigators, legal fees, the website and other services. Hinds said that there is no fixed number of investigators but the sum is there to cater for these persons as the need arises. These investigators, he said, are not policemen and are independent of the Guyana Police Force.
APNU’s front bencher Carl Greenidge, in making reference to the “skimpy provisions” for support staff, asked Hinds to indicate what exactly the Ombudsman had requested. Hinds said that he has advised that what has been provided for in the estimates is what was being looked for.
It was Williams who first asked when the public service Tribunal will be constituted. During questioning Hinds was unable to say when the Tribunal would be constituted. “I am advised and I do believe that my advice is true that there have been consultations or attempts at consultations between his Excellency the President and the Leader of the Opposition,” Hinds said. However Opposition Leader David Granger immediately rose and disputed that. “Mr. Speaker, I think that the Prime Minister is being badly advised”, he said before taking his seat.
Williams, following up, again asked Hinds to indicate the reasons why the Tribunal was not constituted. Amidst loud exchanges between government and opposition MPs, Hinds said, “I am not so sure that this line of questioning falls within the estimates but I am advised that there had been a search for suitable candidates.”
Committee Chairman Raphael Trotman used the opportunity to remind the MPs that the Standing Orders speak about debates ensuing. He said that this is not an interrogation but there is nothing wrong with a member posing a question as it relates to this policy. Trotman pointed out that it is a fact that year after year money is approved for this Tribunal. “So it is more than a fair question to ask when this Tribunal will be established. So, I think that is a very valid question, in the context,” he said.
Despite Hinds’ answers, the opposition in the committee still approved the $19M set aside for the Tribunal and after the approval Trotman said he was hopeful that next year there will be a report from the Prime Minister that it has been established.
In relation to the Parliament Office, APNU’s Volda Lawrence asked whether materials for the library were considered in the estimates and how much as the parliamentary library is in need of an upgrade. Hinds, in response, said that the library was catered for, with $1.5 million set aside for the purchase of new books.
Lawrence also asked Hinds to indicate how many motorcycles are catered for under the line item ‘Land Transport.’ Hinds in response said one, which he said would be used for moving mail around Georgetown.