Gov’t spends $4.5 billion cut from budget

-seeks parliamentary approval

Government has spent more than $4.5 billion of the $37.4 billion cut from this year’s $220 billion national budget and Minister of Finance Ashni Singh yesterday tabled Financial Paper 1 of 2014 seeking the approval of the House for the extra-budgetary spending.

The paper comes up for debate at the next sitting of the National Assembly. The money was spent between January 1, 2014 and June 16. Cabinet Secretary Dr. Roger Luncheon on Wednesday announced that the amounts were spent.

Some of the agencies whose allocations were cut but still received money are the Government Information Agency (GINA) which received $66.4 million, and the state broadcaster National Communications Network (NCN), which received 432.6 million. These bodies were denied their allocations under the 2014 budget because A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) and the Alliance for Change (AFC) said that these entities do not offer services equally to all political parties.

The amounts fall under the Office of the President’s (OP’s) Current Estimates for Administrative Services and as a result of government’s refusal to delink the amounts from the overall total earlier this year, the entire amount, which included allocations for employee salaries and electricity charges, was slashed.

The document also shows that government spent money, previously cut by the opposition parties, to the Public Works Ministry’s and this totaled $1.1 billion for the Cheddi Jagan International Airport (CJIA) Modernization Project. The Ministry of Amerindian Affairs too received part of the money cut from its budget. $306 million, according to the document, has gone towards the Amerindian Development Fund (ADF) being implemented by the ministry.

The allocations for these projects had attracted harsh criticisms from the opposition.

Government also spent amounts which were cut because they were “linked’ to allocations under scrutiny by the opposition. These amounts include $225 million for the University of Guyana (UG) Student Loan Fund. This amount constitutes half of the original allocation – $450 million. This restoration may serve to calm the nerves of students who depend on these loans to pay tuition fees at UG.

APNU spokesperson on finance Carl Greenidge has suggested that the non-allocation of the $450 million to the Loan Fund this year should not affect the disbursement of loans this year. According to Greenidge, the fund has benefitted from allocations of around $450 million annually since 1994, and should thus be now generating revenue to sustain itself.

Speaking to reporters after the document was laid, Singh said that government’s decision to restore the amounts is informed by the ruling by Chief Justice Ian Chang to the effect that the National Assembly does not have the legal authority to reduce the budget, but to either accept or reject it in its entirety. Singh also said that government’s decision is informed by Guyana’s constitution.

Greenidge, on the other hand, described the expenditure as outrageous, considering the National Assembly voted against the amounts during the consideration of the estimates. He alluded to the possibility of taking legal action in retaliation.

Noting though, that Justice Chang has already ruled in favour of the government on the matter, Greenidge said the Court of Appeal and the Caribbean Court of Justice are options that are available.

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