Consideration of the 2009 Estimates of Expenditure by the Committee of Supply got underway yesterday with the Opposition MPs asking questions of the government on the number of contracted employees and funds for state television.
The members of the opposition parties bombarded the government with questions about the number of contracted employees in various sectors of the government with the main concern being whether they were receiving higher salaries than non-contracted workers doing similar jobs in the public service. During the examination of the estimated expenditure for the Office of President (OP), Minister within the Finance Ministry Jennifer Webster told the National Assembly that there were 21 contracted employees within the OP. When quizzed by PNCR-1G MP Winston Murray about the salaries of these workers, she said that these employees are paid the same amount as a person in the Public Service Ministry, with the exception of them being granted a gratuity every six months. Minister Webster told the National Assembly that the three former Ministers who are now employed as advisors to the President are paid a salary of $332, 000 per month.
Meanwhile Prime Minister Samuel Hinds informed the National Assembly that contracted workers of the Guyana Elections Commission will be the beneficiaries of a ten percent salary increase during the year. The Primer Minister stated that the commission has seen a reduction of contracted staff from 71 to 55 but a decision was made to grant an increase in the salaries of these workers.
Transport and Hydraulics Minister Robeson Benn was asked a series of questions regarding proposed work on the access roads to the Berbice Bridge. PNCR-1G MP Aubrey Norton along with other opposition MPs quizzed the Minister extensively about the studies done to ensure that the roads being built were the best options.
Benn told the National Assembly that feasibility studies were done to ensure that the access roads being built were the best options and of the best possible quality. He said that a new engineering solution will be utilised to cancel the effect of the soft sedimentary soil of the Crab Island portion that will be covered by the new access road.
Meanwhile, the Minister explained that during the year, his Ministry will be working assiduously to improve roads all across Guyana and identified the installing of street lights and traffic lights as one of its priorities.
Another issue of contention was the $70M budgeted for the National Communications Network (NCN). Opposition Leader Robert Corbin questioned the status of NCN and whether the $70M was a loan to the broadcasting body or a grant. In response, Webster stated that the government provides subventions to NCN, which is registered as a company. She stated that the funds provided only cover a third of the company’s operating costs and the rest is garnered by the company through other means.
She said the money budgeted will be used to purchase a transmitter and other equipment to support the expansion of NCN into other regions in Guyana. PNCR-1G MP and television station owner Anthony Vieira later told the National Assembly that it was strange that NCN was being allowed to expand its services while the privately owned stations were being denied this privilege.
Meanwhile, the PNCR-1G MP queried whether this expenditure was justified especially given the fact that NCN was capable of raising its own revenue. Murray opined that given the state of the country, this money could be better spent so as to meet the needs of the citizens of Guyana. In response Webster told the National Assembly that she disagreed with this assessment.
Sheila Holder of the AFC asked whether the government pays NCN the same price for programming that other entities do, to which the Minister replied in the affirmative. Webster also said that members of the National Assembly would be given an opportunity to view a copy of the company’s annual report.
The consideration of the estimates continues today with the proposed expenditure for the Ministries of Local Government and Regional Development, Ministry of Housing and Water, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Labour, Human Services and Social Security expected to be discussed.