No word from Singh on gov’t, opposition budget talks -Greenidge

After almost a month, Shadow Finance Minister Carl Greenidge is yet to receive a response from Minister of Finance Dr. Ashni Singh as to when the next meeting on the 2012 budget between the government and the opposition will be held.

“In view of the very limited time available to the Government for the laying of the 2012 Budget, if there is really an intention to convene a meeting that could facilitate a meaningful discussion on matters pertaining to the contents of the budget, I urge that you signal a date as early as possible,” Greenidge said in a letter to Singh, dated March 1, 2012, which was seen by this newspaper.

At a tripartite meeting on February 3, 2012 it was decided that opposition members Greenidge and Winston Jordan, on behalf of APNU and Khemraj Ramjattan and Gerhard Ramsaroop on behalf of AFC, would meet with Minister Singh and Irfaan Ali on Budget 2012. The budget must be presented to the House no later than March 30, 2012 and must be passed no later than April 29, 2012.

Carl Greenidge

In the letter to Singh, Greenidge referred to the draft minutes of the Joint Tripartite Committee which took place on Tuesday February 7, 2012 at the Office of the President, under the chairmanship of President Donald Ramotar. “The minutes state that with regard to the budget consultation it was agreed that ‘Dr. Roger Luncheon would consult with Dr. Ashni Singh on holding a meeting this week and inform the identified representatives accordingly,‘” Greenidge said.

“I take this opportunity to also remind you of my letter dated [February 8, 2012] to you seeking a date for the meeting and suggesting an agenda. To date I have received no response although on [December 31, 2012] President Donald Ramotar assured me that he had asked you to undertake the meeting,” he said.

He said that in a bid to facilitate whatever discussion is still possible that Singh provide information, as per Section 13 – 15 of the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act of 2003, which he is required to set out in the Budget Circular. “Since that circular was required to have been sent out 180 days prior to the laying of the Appropriation Bill, this request would not impose any additional burden on you,” he said in the letter.

Dr. Ashni Singh

According to Greenidge, this would assist the opposition in understanding the assumptions underlying the preparation of the numbers and facilitate an understanding of government’s 2012 economic and social goals.

“With this information, the type of problem associated with understanding the reasons why a Contingency Fund request of over $1 billion could be associated with an initial request for $100 million could be attenuated if not avoided altogether,” he said in the letter.
This newspaper made several attempts to reach Dr. Singh for a response yesterday but to no avail.

Greenidge, speaking to Stabroek News yesterday, said he is afraid that the parties would not be able to discuss anything of substance given the short time left. He said that people would be thinking that the President made a commitment to hold the budget talks and it did not fructify because of the opposition.

Referring to the item of expenditure he mentioned in the letter to Singh, Greenidge said that the figure of over $1 billion up from just $100 million was just unjustifiable. This money had been sought for the subsidising of the Guyana Power and Light in the wake of higher fuel costs and a fuel budget shortfall that this company faced as a result. “The truth is that the assumption could not justify the increases they were asking for,” he said.

He noted that the passage of the FMAA was meant to keep the government honest. “The government passed that Act and now they do not want to honour anything in the Act,” he said.

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