APNU’s Shadow Public Works Minister Joseph Harmon on Friday pilloried government for proposing spending in this year’s budget that does not reflect its supposed priorities.
“This budget is all about fluff… the choices made by the Minister of Finance in allocating the resources of this country do not reflect the urgent priorities in physical infrastructure,” Harmon told the National Assembly in his contribution to the budget debate, where he also signalled that the opposition would vote down a subvention proposed for the state-run National Communications Network (NCN), where officials were probed for financial irregularities last year.
Harmon said that a long term infrastructural development plan is needed to support growth in Guyana’s economy and more money needs to be channeled into the hinterland and for sea defence development.
Using the developmental projects of the country’s two main airports—the Cheddi Jagan International Airport, Timehri (CJIA) and the Ogle International Airport—Harmon blasted government about the $5.4B proposed for the CJIA as compared to nothing for Ogle and $248M to rehabilitate airstrips in five of hinterland regions. He scoffed at the skewed ratio. “We have made bad choices in how we allocate,” he said.
Reflecting on the speeches of Minster of Housing and Water Irfaan Ali and the Minister of Natural Resource and the Environment Robert Persaud, who boasted of Guyana’s hinterland as its “El Dorado,” Harmon stressed that these talks are not reflected in the budget.
“The vast majority of flights that go into the hinterland take off from Ogle… while we are saying that the hinterland is important and this is where El Dorado is, we are trying to build an airport to take us to Africa,” he said.
“The Ogle airport has been built and extended and expanded… after all of this work was done, there is no debt for the government to repay. The people of Guyana will benefit from over 50% of the future profit of Ogle airport,” he added, while questioning the funds proposed for the CJIA expansion.
Harmon said that he also agreed with other opposition parliamentarians who in their speeches have bemoaned the sums allocated for road development in the hinterland.
He added that he was surprised as well that given the importance of the country’s ports, which he called its lifeblood, no monies were proposed for them. He said that he believed that there should be special focus on this area as they see the largest volume of trade and business.
Turning his attention to water development, Harmon dared Minister Ali to drink a glass of water from a city tap, saying that quality and distribution countrywide has been found wanting.
This led to an exchange between the two, with Ali shouting “I would take a glass of water from any tap and drink it… you bring it, I will drink it and show you.” Speaker Raphael Trotman had to warn both men that disruption of the House would not be tolerated.
Meanwhile, to the thunderous applause by the opposition and to shouts of “not a cent,” “zero” and “nothing,” Harmon announced that the opposition would cut the proposed subvention for NCN to nought. “…The minister allocated$ 81M for NCN .This is an entity… whose allocation we will not support,” he said, while noting President Donald Ramotar, who is Minister of Information, must release the report on the investigations into financial wrongdoings uncovered at the network.
He said that the leader of the opposition has written several times to the president on making the report privy to the opposition parties and has always been given the answer “we are considering the report.” He added that the opposition will not relent in its quest for the document as the public needs to know of a ruling on the report.
Harmon also addressed the allocation of radio and television licences by former president Bharrat Jagdeo, saying his distribution of licences to `party comrades’ shortly before demitting office was “wholly unacceptable.”
“The persons who have been issued with these licences must be subject to the same scrutiny to which the persons who are now applying and those persons who have been asked to reapply,” he said, adding that “equity and justice” demands it.