Budget 2012 passed, 0pposition slashes $20.8B

Budget 2012 was approved yesterday in the Committee of Supply of the Parliament minus a sum of $20.8 billion cut by the one-seat majority Opposition comprising the Alliance For Change (AFC) and A Partnership for National Unity (APNU), both of whom signalled their willingness to approve at a later date the funds now being withheld once Government addresses concerns over the allocations.

Yesterday’s sitting wrapped up seven intense days of rigorous examination of the estimates, with the cuts only coming in the last two days. The AFC had proposed a number of cuts for last week but these had not been supported by APNU, hence were not carried. Wednesday’s sitting yielded $2.23 billion in cuts while for yesterday the sum total of the cuts was $18.6 billion.

Wednesday’s cuts included allocations for the National Communications Network (NCN) ($81.2 million cut), Government Information Agency (GINA) ($130.4), the Guyana Elections Commission ($527 million), Office of the President ($150 million, $345 million), and Office of the Prime Minister ($6 billion).

At yesterday’s sitting, the Opposition cut all but one dollar for an allocation of $18.39 billion covering a number of low carbon projects under the Ministry of Finance, namely, the Amaila Falls Project ($16.4 billion), Amerindian land titling ($202.1 million), Amerindian Development Fund ($205 million), small and micro enterprise ($512.5 million), adaptation project – Cunha Canal $410 million and institutional strengthening of agencies connected to the LCDS $615 million.

Proceedings in the House yesterday (Anjuli Persaud photo)

However the first item to fall victim to the Opposition ‘scissors’ was a total of $224.4 million under the Ministry of Finance covering subsidies and contributions to local organisations. Under this head, a sum of $6.72 billion was allocated to a number of organisations, among them the Customs Anti-Narcotics Unit (CANU) with $20 million, the State Planning Secretariat with $105 million and the Ethnic Relations Commission with $99.4 million. All of these allocations were reduced to $1 each as the Opposition showed a united front on the voting.

Arising to speak after Greenidge moved his motion to make the amendments, Minister of Finance Dr. Ashni Singh said that while the motion did not come as a surprise, he was hoping that the Opposition having had a chance to pose questions on the allocations would had a change of heart.

“We have CANU whose work can be only described as indispensible for the security of the state and the integrity of our borders to deter this sort of crime,” Dr. Singh said.

He said that the House had already voted an allocation for CANU under the Ministry of Home Affairs. This ministry will now be responsible for the budget of the CANU as against the Ministry of Finance. This was one of the concerns of many reports of the Auditor General over the years.

“I would have thought that with demonstrated action on this matter [the Opposition would have acted differently],” he said. “I call on the members to reconsider their actions on this matter. There are no words to describe these actions,” he said.

Khemraj Ramjattan of the AFC in supporting the cut said that the Opposition by its actions is making benchmarks for good governance of the country.

Speaking on the motion to amend the budget, Minister within the Ministry of Finance  Juan Edghill said the actions of the Opposition, political as they may be, are not going to hurt the Commissioners of the ERC but the staff of the entity and the people who will be going these to access their guidance. The Opposition actions will also affect the functioning of the body.

“The Opposition [by their actions] would have failed the people of Guyana. What this is attempting to do is collapse the ERC,” he said. He said too that to not finance an institution that has been working and reporting its activities to the National Assembly is unjust.

Speaking to the CANU allocation being chopped down to one dollar, Minister of Home Affairs Clement Rohee said that the actions with respect of CANU were coming at a time when the fight against a narcotics trade was assuming greater urgency. He said that the body is making more and more seizures and interdictions. Rohee is of the view that the actions of the Opposition will send the wrong message to the international community.

According to Rohee, CANU has appointed ranks, a new Head and has made interdictions of some 1,200 kg of marijuana and 305 kg of cocaine. “The cut is coming at a time when CANU is building bilateral relations with Brazil, Suriname and Venezuela. Mr. Chairman, this is unconscionable, CANU is seeking to build capacity,” he said, adding that ranks are being sent abroad to Singapore, Jamaica and other countries for training.

With regard to the proposal to cut the LCDS funding from the budget, Dr. Singh said that the consultations were extensive and a report by the International Institute for Environment and Development did a study on the consultation process and rated it well.

Responding to the concerns of the Opposition that the money was not in the Treasury and hence should not be in the budget, the Minister did acknowledge that though it was not in the Treasury, the money was earned by the country for the ecosystem services of the rainforest he said that the money should not be looked as overseas aid or a grant. The Minister pointed out that many of the projects in the budget are foreign funded with the monies not deposited as yet, and yet still those projects and the financing to complete them are listed in the estimates year after year.

Singh pointed out that the Trustee of the GRIF funds – the World Bank- has already received transfers in the order of US$70 million and is Guyana is to receive the tranche for 2012 this year.

He said the Cunha Canal project and the Institutional Strengthening project are at advanced stages en route to being approved.

Ramjattan asked, “Wouldn’t it be safer to wait until the requirements are met before [including it in the budget just in case we don’t get the money?].” he expressed the sentiment that the AFC would support financial papers brought to the House for the monies cut from the budget so long as the Government shows it is serious about addressing the issues as identified by the Opposition. He said too that the Government could put National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL) monies into the Consolidated Fund and use that to finance the equity in the hydro project.

Prime Minister Sam Hinds – Minister responsible for the energy sector – expressed his disappointment in the actions of the Opposition since it will result in a slowdown of the process to get the Amaila hydro project going.

Natural Resources Minister Robert Persaud, in  urging the Opposition to “seriously reconsider” the proposed amendments said that the LCDs was “not a pride that the PPP/C wears alone but one that all Guyanese wear”.  He warned that future generations would judge the Opposition for being irresponsible and reckless. “We are squandering the well-being of our people,” Persaud said.

An  emotional Dr Leslie Ramsammy told the House that the project to improve the Cunha canal was going to be affected by the cuts to the LCDS thereby affecting the livelihoods of many Guyanese. The project, which the Agriculture Minister said, would aid in the drainage of the East Demerara Water Conservancy (EDWC) has already gone through the required process and approval has been granted.

Meanwhile, Foreign Affairs Minister Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett said that the government was committed to giving the indigenous people ownership of its land. She said that the PPP/C has made progress bringing the number from 6.5 percent to 14 percent.

Speaking on LCDS, APNU MP Sydney Allicock said that Amerindians supported this initiative especially as it related to land demarcation.  He said though that they were especially concerned about how this was being done. “The needs of the indigenous people have to be addressed first then we could move forward,” Allicock said.

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