AFC Chairman Khemraj Ramjattan yesterday accused the government of unlawfully stashing billions in bank accounts held by numerous state agencies and he called for a full disclosure.
“You can’t tek half de money and hide it up somewhere and then come here with a budget and say that the Consolidated Fund’s revenue section indicating ‘x, y and z’ is the figure! That is absolutely wrong and a breach of the constitution and the Attorney General must know this,” he declared to members of the National Assembly during his contribution to debate on the 2012 national budget.
Referring to the 2010 Auditor General’s report, Ramjattan highlighted several instances of the bad management of the country’s finances. “We in this country can only know whether we are having all the monies in the budget, in the Consoli-dated Fund, if we are having them honestly placed there,” he explained, saying that numerous agencies were holding assets. “They are not brought to book in a Consolidated Fund from which we now, as parliamentarians, can have total scrutiny,” he noted.
The report, he noted, found that 11 special accounts have over $4.5 billion. “This is what we were talking about, the static accounts all over the place. Bank of Guyana got plenty… which ought to go into the consolidated account. We got to know what is the state of our monies!” he said to applause. He noted that there is a balance of $13.287 billion held in ministries and other departments’ bank accounts.
Ramjattan argued that the situation has led to fears that the budget may not reflect the actual funds available. “It is obvious that we got more monies in bank accounts other than where we are supposed to get. It breaches another requirement of our constitution… we are going to not have what is called any power to disapprove or approve in relation to those large sets of monies,” he said.
He pointed to the sale of government’s GT&T shares for US$30 million—accusing the administration of killing “the goose that laid the golden egg—and he added that based on his knowledge the initial US$25 million payment is not reflected in the Consolidated Fund but will be reflected somewhere in NICIL’s holdings.
He further charged that the location of the monies from several financial transactions done by government is unclear and he also pointed out that despite indications that a Marriott Hotel would be built, no part of the budget reflects that “we have to approve of such a major project.”
Over $27 billion will be spent by government on the project, he said. “We will not be approving it because there is a stream of revenue that is totally outside here. The budget! We have to put a halt to that in this National Assembly,” he added to applause from opposition MPs. “All the streams of money must come into this budget, so we then, with eagle eyes, can… see the position for ourselves”, he said.
Parliamentarians, he noted, will only know if there is money available to pay pensioners if all the state’s bank accounts are known. “That kind of holding of our revenues outside of the Consolidated Fund cannot give a proper picture of what monies we have, so that we can spend on our workers, our population, our old people, our young people,” he added.
Ramjattan questioned why monies for the proposed Marriott Hotel and the sold GT&T shares could not be used to build a state development bank to make credit easier for young entrepreneurs who are struggling to survive.
Government also needs to pump more money into the University of Guyana, particularly in the Science, Techno-logy, Engineer and Mathema-tics fields, he added, while insisting that the budget can be cropped to ensure that there is a reduction in VAT “where they will be increase for pensioners and public assistance for the poor and deprived.”
Ramjattan argued that a “bloated bureaucracy” had been created by virtue of the expansion of ministries over the years. He said that the 13 ministries during the tenure of the late president Dr. Cheddi Jagan has ballooned to almost 21 currently and the country finds itself in a financial crisis with the additional ministries and the large number of contracted employees. “We can simply give monies to workers for social assistance, for pension, if we were to cut those ministries back…,” he said, adding that “we” have to live within our means.
“What is happening is that a lot of these ministries are doing the work of what we call constitutional authorities and other agencies that have been created to do the work,” he said, noting that there are several sub agencies that are doing all the work that a ministry should be doing. He called this “a duplication of expenses” and noted that cuts are important since Guyana has a “donkey cart,” not “Mercedes Benz” economy.
Ramjattan said that the AFC will support a budget or economic programme, once it offers opportunities for all and ensures equitable distribution of the country’s resources. When analyzing the country’s internal problems, he admitted that he could appreciate the difficulties that the minister had coming up with the budget. And while the AFC does see things it can support, he said, “there are a number of things that I rather suspect will be deemed unprincipled on the part of the AFC if we do not ask for a review, if we do not ask for some change and alterations.”
Ramjattan stressed that the opposition has received a “tongue lashing” during the debate from the government as it relates to “how well the economy is doing.” He conceded that his party agrees that the country is better than it was before, but added that the question is “Are we where we are supposed to be with the same set of monies and finances that we have in this budget?”
He also said that while some sectors saw growth, others did not do so well and that there was an “inexcusable” rise in both the domestic debt and per capita debt that should be brought to the attention of the National Assembly and the public.
Ramjattan said that the plan for an almost a $13 billion deficit, which includes 15 % in grants, could be something that can be deemed reckless as the country could be in a budget deficit in the range of $45 billion. “We could very well have alarming disproportionalities in relation to our finances come later down in the year,” he warned.