Although accusing APNU and the AFC of “political bullyism” for reducing this year’s budget, Finance Minister Dr Ashni Singh last night said that government remains open to dialogue with the opposition.
“We have always said that we are open to dialogue and discussion and we remain open to dialogue and discussion. But I will say that this kind of behaviour does not inspire a lot of confidence when it comes to the question of whether the opposition is sincere about national development,” Singh told reporters last evening, following the approval of a reduced budget.
During yesterday’s consideration of estimates, APNU and AFC used their combined majority to cut a further $18.6B from the budget, in addition to the $2.23Bthat it had cut the previous day.
Singh questioned the logic of the decision to cut the $18.6B in funds budgeted for projects under the Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS). “There is no justification whatsoever for any of these cuts…” the minister said. “I want to condemn in the strongest possible terms the wielding of the slender majority of one, for what can only be described as promoting the narrow, partisan political agenda and it was the most vulgar display of bullyism and political grandstanding,” he added.
On the way forward, Singh said that the government will continue to function in the interest of Guyanese. “We are guided by the constitution and the law and we will continue to be guided by those. We continue to exercise the function of executive government and we will continue to do so in the interest of the people of Guyana…,” Singh said. “We are always open to talk and to speaking and listening,” he further said.
He declined to comment about the likelihood of fresh elections being held. “I wouldn’t necessarily pronounce on that at this point in time… we are focused on the path of national development,” Singh said when questioned on the issue.
In an invited comment, Shadow Finance Minister Carl Greenidge, of APNU, said that he is optimistic that the government will now be more open to discussions with the opposition.
“Well, given the fact that the parties on the opposition side have seen that it is fruitful to work together, I think the government will also see the consequences of not being involved in such an exercise, because it surely has to be a problem to spend a lot of time preparing something like a budget and then having to change it because there are major elements to be changed,” Greenidge said.
He added that APNU and the AFC decided to proceed with the cuts after the government refused to budge on certain demands that the parties were making. The two parties, he said, are different but were willing find common ground. “The AFC’s goals are not the same as ours, so you have to find common ground. Their approach is also somewhat different. That means you’ve got to talk, which is something that the government doesn’t understand,” Greenidge said. He expressed optimism that the government may change its stance on this, since it is not an “unlearning government.”
Responding to Singh’s description of the opposition’s actions as “political bullyism,” Greenidge pointed to the PPP/C’s style of governance. “I think that is a silly response… if you have a majority [and you] use the majority, you can’t yourself get upset when someone else has a majority and uses that majority to oppose things that you have. Was it ‘bullyism’ from the time that the PPP has been exercising a majority?” he asked, saying that the PPP/C has in the past often made decisions that were in defiance of public opinion. He said too that over the years the PPP/C has failed to address the issues of corruption and to adopt the recommendations of the Auditor General.
Greenidge also said that the reductions that the opposition voted for yesterday were largely influenced by the government’s failure to provide “satisfactory” answers to the questions. According to him, on the previous night when the government provided satisfactory answers on an aspect of the Guyana Elections Commission, it did not trouble the original amount budgeted.
Last night the youth arm of the PPP, the Progressive Youth Organisation added its voice to the debate. It said in a statement:
“April 25, 2012 was truly a sad and tragic day in the history of our beloved country as we watched the political maneuvering of the APNU/AFC in the National Assembly wielding their
unbridled rage to shatter and demise the future of our country and its youth.
“Their malicious actions, pleasurably and nonchalantly done, can only be seen as a strategy by the APNU/AFC to kill the dreams of the poor. This cut in budgetary allocation from the ICT programme will stymie the development of a vibrant and very promising ICT sector. It
will result in a halt of the One Lap Top per Family Programme- which to date, thousands of persons have benefited from, in spite of their race and political affiliation. It will also bring to a halt, the installation of the fiber optic cable- which is geared at improving bandwidth capacity,
enhancing internet connectivity and expanding IT services and opportunities throughout
Guyana, especially the rural areas.”