President Donald Ramotar’s reaction to the budget cuts was “reprehensible” in the light of his “hard and callous” response to the opposition’s arguments during two days of engagements with administration officials prior to the passage of the reduced budget, AFC Chairman Khemraj Ramjattan said.
In an address to the nation on Friday night, the president assailed the opposition for slashing the 2012 budget and accused APNU of reneging on agreements reached with his administration. The president said that the $21 billion in budget cuts threaten many transformative projects started by the government and will delay the commencement of others. He said that while his administration demonstrated goodwill, APNU and the AFC conspired and “ended up retarding the development taking place in the country.” The “inexplicable” and “unfathomable” budget cuts “constitute an ominous threat to the livelihood of Guyanese and to future generations,” Ramotar said. He added that he remains committed to dialogue.
Ramjattan told the Sunday Stabroek yesterday that the opposition had laid out its position to the president that it was unconstitutional to approve money not yet received. “It is totally unconstitutional to give approval for spending when we don’t have the money,” he said adding that this would lead to a deficit if the money does not come like in the previous two years. The majority of cuts -$18.39 billion – cover a number of low carbon projects under the Ministry of Finance. Funding was expected to come from Guyana’s forests agreement with Norway. The opposition has argued that this allocation was expunged as there was no guarantee that the money would be released to Guyana by the World Bank, which is managing the funds for the Norway forest deal. It has been argued that the government should have handled this allocation by way of a conditional appropriation.
Ramjattan reiterated this yesterday and said that they would have had to find money from other sources to fund the projects should the Norway funds not come in. On Thursday night, Budget 2012 was approved by the National Assembly minus $20.8 billion cut by the one-seat majority opposition comprising APNU and the AFC. Both parties signalled their willingness to approve at a later date the funds now being withheld, once government addresses concerns over the allocations. Finance Minister Dr Ashni Singh had presented a budget of $192.5 billion.
Ramjattan said Ramotar’s speech was a “reprehensible response to rational cuts” and further, he omitted to mention the opposition’s view that the money seen as revenue coming into Guyana is not the total picture of all the revenue. Ramjattan said the state holding company, National Industrial and Commercial Investment Ltd (NICIL) has billions of dollars in its accounts and cited the receipt of US$25 million from the sale of government’s shares in the Guyana Telephone and Telegraph company. He said that another source is Bank of Guyana accounts and he cited the $33 billion that was supposed to be transferred to the Consolidated Fund. In addition, there are other sources of funds including that garnered by the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission, the Guyana Forestry Commission and he said that recently the National Frequency Management Unit (NFMU) garnered $440 million for selling spectrum.
Ramjattan said the budget figure and the unbudgeted funds from the other sources is a situation akin to a man coming home with only half of his salary and telling his wife to budget it and if it does not do, to slash the child’s lessons while the other half is for the ‘sweet woman’.
“We want a fair picture of our state of revenue,” he said.
Meanwhile, Ramjattan said that the president’s claims of job losses are “wholly outrageous” since he did not seem to care when the RUSAL workers were dismissed or when CNS Sharma TV was suspended and workers sent home. He said that if TV stations are granted licences to expand their coverage nationally, jobs will be created. “What is this hypocrisy and crocodile tears about?” he questioned. According to Ramjattan, the president was “hard and callous” at the meetings and did not take on board “meritorious” suggestions of the opposition.
He said they remain willing to hold talks with the government on the issues and suggested that it could be televised so that the public can see what is happening.
With reference to Ramotar’s statement that the opposition is using a “dictatorship of one” in Parliament to stymie further progress in the hope that if they can stop the development of our country they would advance their political mission to take power, Ramjattan said this is “political spin.”
Using the president’s reasoning, he said, since the PPP had a majority during the previous 20 years of its rule, then it held a dictatorship of however many seats it held in the majority. According to Ramjattan, in any other normal scenario, given the majority of seats, the opposition would have been in power and therefore the PPP has “a dictatorship of 32.”
He slammed Ramotar’s speech. “This is political spin that is damaging to the democracy and even more damaging coming from the president,” he said. He said that the governing party is reluctant to compromise and want to control everything. “They don’t want to compromise…and we intend to clip their wings of that control freakism,” he said.