A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) yesterday said that it has no apologies to make for the staff cuts at the Government Information Agency (GINA) and tasked the government to find jobs for the 30-plus persons who have now been placed on the breadline.
“As regards this question of employment let me say that we have no apologies to make for the situation… The government is not entitled to use taxpayers’ money to fund a propaganda machine,” APNU parliamentarian Carl Greenidge told reporters.
APNU yesterday called a press briefing to discuss Wednesday’s historic parliamentary move that saw the budget allocation to state TV NCN and GINA being slashed by over $211 million.
Greenidge, in justifying the move, said the coalition believes that the work GINA does should be funded by the PPP government. “It’s as simple as that. They don’t have to send the people home. Let them find the resources from their PPP coffers because the law does not entitle them to use state resources simply to sell their own programmes,” he stressed.
The parliamentarian sought to further explain that the government information service which preceded GINA, was never given a mandate to simply be a propaganda weapon for the executive. He noted that for example in Barbados there is a very different operation at the government information agency when compared with Guyana.
“As regards GINA we have no apologies. We raised this with the President. The Leader of the Opposition wrote to him suggesting that the content and approach of GINA be changed; suggesting that they have a more responsible and internationally acceptable sort of standard to which they work.”
Turning his attention to NCN, Greenidge told reporters that the amount cut from that entity’s budget is a small portion of what is available to it. He said that NCN is able to raise by way of advertisements and other income, over $300 million or 400 million.
He said NCN can operate commercially “and if they operate commercially … our concern is that whatever they are doing in the present mode should not be funded by taxpayers money,” he stressed.
Another APNU parliamentarian Volda Lawrence in adding her voice to the issue made it clear that the party was not in the business of taking jobs from people but rather in the business of seeking to have the government create more jobs for people which is in large demand at the moment.
“We hope that those 35 persons can understand the whole picture. The Prime Minister had indicated to me when I spoke with him… that there are a lot of jobs so I believe that the government would act responsibly and ensure that they place these 35 persons immediately into other areas where they can continue their employment and they can take care of themselves and families. It is now placed at the steps of the government to find employment for those persons.”
Earlier, Greenidge, reading from a prepared statement, said that this year’s budget has been the subject of universal criticism because “it seems to completely ignore the mood of the electorate, as regards the need for change on a range of fronts; such as restoring the (financial and operational) independence of constitutional agencies and offices, such as the Parliament Office, the offices of the judiciary, the Public and the Police Service Commissions; establishing the constitutionally mandated Public Procurement Commission to discourage corruption in the award of contracts, at a time when the executive is devoting increasing proportions of GDP to capital projects; bringing an end to the abuse of executive power as regards the use of state resources; bringing an end to political and racial discrimination…”.
He noted that while many of these complaints were economic – the arrangements and financing for the Amaila Falls, the proposed Marriott Hotel, extension of the Cheddi Jagan International Airport, those that generated the most widespread public debate and concern were actually political. Some of them were not to be found in the budget estimates because the government uses other devices such as NICIL to avoid parliamentary scrutiny.
“It is, therefore, fitting that the budget items, which provided the first opportunity for the opposition to jointly change a budget item, were to be found in the Office of the President and, more specifically, the funding of the two state entities NCN and GINA. These entities are a stark reflection of the manner in which the PPP/C government has been abusing its position of power in Guyana,” he said.
He said the fact is that taxpayers’ monies are being “illegally used” to promote the interests of the PPP. “This has to be ended and the resolution of the problem would require the joint selection and appointment of professional and non-political management of these entities.”
Greenidge noted that Wednesday’s move to cut allocations to NCN and GINA is the first time that the country’s budget has been amended by the legislature.
“First the action was not intended to put ordinary people out of work, or to directly penalize citizens and government employees. However, there was some effort to identify and cut funds that the government had been using to employ PPP activists. Paying such persons from state revenues and tax resources is widespread in Guyana although it is illegal. Many questions were posed, by opposition MPs, in order to find out who are among the contracted employees and others, benefiting from this illegal funding of former ministers and political favourites earning super salaries, and where these payments are to be found,” the statement read.
It was stated that in a move to put pressure on the opposition, the government proposes to lay off many workers and to raise some prices and cut services – cricket coverage, films, cultural events etc.
“Secondly, these opposition actions should be seen in the context of a situation where, in December 2011, the government promised to have the Ministry of Finance (MOF) work with the opposition parties on the preparation of the 2012 Budget. Instead, the MOF refused to have a single meeting to this end. It also needs to be seen against a background of more recent attempts by APNU to discuss the most egregious elements of the 2012 Budget with the government and the PPP political leadership,” Greenidge said.
He later explained that talks with the government bore little fruit as its position was that “not a single figure was to be changed and that everything, especially those relating to attempts to reduce abuse and corruption was non-negotiable”.
Greenidge told reporters that when the answers provided by the ministers were satisfactory, the opposition was willing to withdraw the proposed cuts. This was the case in several instances involving Gecom.
“The process of change is likely to be protracted. It involves many steps. Consideration of the Estimates does not permit the opposition to add new items or to increase sums allocated to heads. It also cannot directly change policies. Many other steps are required. This is only the first,” he said.