Finance ministry’s half yearly report on budget performance two months’ overdue

More than two months after the deadline, the Ministry of Finance is still to send the half yearly report on the performance of the National Budget to the National Assembly as mandated by the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act of 2003.

Since he was attending a number of meetings, Minister of Finance Dr Ashni Singh was unavailable when this newspaper visited his office for a comment on Friday.

But a senior functionary of the ministry said that the report would be released soon. That person indicated that the matter had received the attention of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), some of whose members discussed the report’s tardiness with functionaries of the ministry who sit at the sessions of the PAC on a weekly basis. These included the Finance Secretary and the Accountant General.

Chairman of the PAC, PNCR-1G member Volda Lawrence called the delayed report scenario “gross disrespect” for the people of Guyana and said that it was time people stopped taking such behaviour sitting down.

She asked whether the government had something to hide by not bringing the report to the National Assembly.

Speaking to this newspaper on Friday even-ing, Lawrence said that at this time of the year, the staff of the ministry were usually interviewing accounting officers from ministries and government departments to compile information for the preparation of next year’s national budget.

She said the report would guide the decisions being made about the allocation of funds to the various agencies. “[The budget staff] need to look at the actual amounts spent up to a certain time of the year to see how monies were being spent and if any funding would have been carried over,” the PAC Chairperson said.

She said that the report should have at least been on the parliamentary agenda now that the recess had ended.

Lawrence said that since the report was mandated by law, all stakeholders, including civil society, had a responsibility to speak out and demand compliance on government’s part. She noted that the government would often use its majority to “railroad” various pieces of legislation through the National Assembly, and this must change.

Back in September the Minister said work was ongoing to get the report out. The end of August had marked the deadline according to the act, which states that the report is due 60 days after the half-year mark, which was the end of June.

As a consequence of the implementation from January 1 of the Value-Added Tax (VAT) and because of concerns that VAT collection has been way above projection, this particular report is being awaited with great interest.

Opposition members of parliament had argued that if the government had been compliant with the FMAA in the completion of the report, then this could have been used to bring the accounts of the 2005 Great Flood to the National Assembly. Accounts in relation to the flood relief and clean-up efforts were something which the Prime Minister had said would be put before the National Assembly during 2005, but this was not done.

According to the act, the report must include an update on the current macroeconomic and fiscal situation, a revised economic outlook for the remainder of the fiscal year and a statement of the projected impact that these trends are likely to have on the annual budget for the current fiscal year.

It should also contain a comparison report on the out-turned current and capital expenditures and revenues with estimates approved by the National Assembly with explanations of any significant variances, and a list of major risks for the remainder of the fiscal year, together with likely policy responses of the government to meet the expected circumstances.

The mid-year report must also include a comparative account of the out-turned current and capital expenditure and revenues with the estimates originally approved by the National Assembly with explanations for any significant variances.

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