The National Intelligence Centre is set to benefit from over $224.6M in security and ICT equipment as the government moves to improve its intelligence collecting ability.
This expenditure was part of the $6.8B in supplementary provisions that was approved by the National Assembly on Thursday.
During the debate, Opposition Leader Robert Corbin questioned why the government would need an additional $224,640,000 when the original amount stated in the budget was $14,500,000. He asked when it had been determined that this additional sum was required and if there had been a deliberate attempt to mislead the House earlier in the year.
In response, Minister within the Finance Ministry Jennifer Webster said that there was no attempt to mislead the National Assembly and said the additional expenditure was the expansion of a particular programme. She said that the government plans to install Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) Systems around the city and on the main highways. This, she said, is being done to protect infrastructure in these areas. This project falls under the purview of the Office of the President.
Meanwhile, the additional $147.4M requested for the establishment of an
Educational Television Broadcasting Service was subject to much scrutiny from the Opposition, who expressed concern that the channel may become “another Channel 11”. While indicating their support for any initiative that will improve educational delivery in the country, the Opposition queried when this initiative had been conceptualized.
Education Minister Shaik Baksh, in response, said that the government always had a plan for a multi-media centre at the National Centre for Education Resource Development (NCERD). He said that there had been some quick developments in this initiative.
Questioned by Corbin as to who will be monitoring the content of the station especially to guard against it being used for political propaganda, Baksh said that an oversight management team will be set up. He said that a separate channel will be established and that it is expected to be operational by the first quarter in 2011.
Meanwhile, Corbin queried the expenditure associated with Guyana hosting the recently concluded Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) Summit. While the original provision was $41M in the original budget an additional $93,106,340 was requested. Corbin suggested that this may have been a case of bad planning since the government should have been able to properly budget for hosting the event, especially since it has hosted other international events. He noted too that the supplementary amount more than doubled that which had been originally requested.
In response, Foreign Affairs Minister Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett explained that it would have been difficult to budget for the event at that time, since the delegations’ sizes were unknown at the time. She, however, promised to provide a detailed breakdown of expenditure to the House.
Corbin accused Finance Minister Dr Ashni Singh of disrespecting the House by seeking supplementary provisions that are often several times the amounts originally provided for in the annual budget. “The Minister of Finance is showing great disrespect to the Parliament,” Corbin said, as he suggested that some of the amounts were deliberately not put in the budget so as to escape scrutiny.
Singh, however, disagreed, stating that the requests were permitted by the Constitution and under the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act of 2003.