AFC MP Moses Nagamootoo yesterday laced into the government for overspending and corruption and announced his party’s intention to cut “bad project allocations, waste and extravagance” from the proposed budget that he believes has been tailored to satisfy the insatiable appetite of the parasitic and bureaucratic class.
In his second budget speech as a member of the AFC, the former PPP/C strongman also knocked the granting of radio licences to persons who are closely aligned to the ruling party just before the 2011 elections and called for them to be withdrawn.
“In all these allocations, there is a serious conflict of interest–it is disgraceful and scandalous. This is naked nepotism. These frequencies ought to be withdrawn immediately! There will be no compromise on this matter,” a fired up Nagamootoo told the National Assembly as he contributed to the ongoing debate of the government’s proposed $208.8 billion budget.
He said the country’s spectrum is a limited national resource, a public property and could be a great money-earner.
Unlike during his maiden speech as a non-member of the PPP/C last year, Nagamootoo’s presentation did not see vociferous heckling from his former colleagues on the government side but they shouted him down as he ended his presentation because he had gone way past the allotted time. He had to be reminded several times by Speaker Raphael Trotman that his time was up before he ended his speech.
Agriculture Minister Dr Leslie Ramsammy, who spoke just after Nagamootoo, said that while in the past budget debates he enjoyed listening to his former colleague the most, his presentation yesterday demonstrated that he “certainly lost his way… it was one of his worst presentations.”
Nagamootoo questioned why the many public sector entities, such as GPL, GuySuCo, the Gold Board and GGMC, among others, continue to be given budgetary allocations when they generate incomes of their own and operate at a loss. “These are poised on the brink of financial disaster. Instead of progress, many public corporations are a liability to the people,” he said.
He also questioned why the Demerara Harbour Bridge continues to be allocated monies for its maintenance and suggested that in the interest of equity, the government should at least allocate a $150 million subsidy for Berbice Bridge tolls to cushion the burden on Berbicians.
In rebuttal, Ramsammy pointed out that the public entities are not-profit making agencies and asked Nagamootoo if he wanted the people of West Demerara to pay increased bridge tolls.
Ramsammy, who declared that he is a proud PPP/C member and championed the budget as having something for everyone, also chided his colleagues in the opposition for saying that the budget only supports the cronies of the PPP/C. He questioned how all the reliefs given in the social sector, such as the increase in the old age pension and monies allocated for school uniforms and the school feeding programme, could be dubbed money for cronies. After listening to the opposition, he added, one would believe that the budget was “crafted by devils with evil intentions” and that nobody is left in Guyana that is not a “PPP/C crony.”
Meanwhile, Nagamootoo noted that while the opposition had cut parts of the budget last year, the government restored the cuts and revised upwards allocations made for contracted employees, “many of whom are the super-salaried, million and multi-million-dollar cats on sinecure employment,” in defiance of the National Assembly.
He pointed out that last year, those workers got an additional $100 million and this year the government has upped the allotment for contracted employees to $7.8 billion. “The number of PPP activists on Office of the President payroll has increased,” he charged.
Defiance, Nagamootoo added, is also compounded with “insult to this National Assembly, as cuts for the PPP propaganda machines – GINA and NCN – have not only been restored, but increased!”
“A gauntlet of arrogance and defiance has been thrown into these hallowed halls of the National Assembly,” Nagamootoo said.
The AFC, he explained, is not against projects, but needs to see the feasibility studies and to know if these projects are the best use for the country’s money. “For the AFC, there must be protocols guiding cuts. Unless forced to disapprove the entire budget, AFC would not cut allocations that are in the national interest, say, wages and salaries for the non-contracted public service, and for essential services including social sector spending for education, health, housing and water. We will cut bad project allocations, waste and extravagance,” he warned.
He questioned why allocate more than $350 million dollars for presidential excursions overseas and whether the country can afford this. “Allocations that hurt the national interest, like subsidies for the state-run propaganda machines that continue to lock-out the opposition and refuse to give us fair and reasonable access should not get a cent! A demand… must be for the opening up of the state media and the recall of new radio and cable frequencies from cronies of this government,” he screamed.
Calling the PPP/C a “we bruk am; we fix am” government, Nagamootoo said the party boasts about fixing old roads and building new ones; breaking old bridges and making new ones; scrapping the new airport and building a newer one; fixing our broken down sugar industry; and fixing the failed electricity system.
On the issue of corruption, he said the government wants support for its spending spree but has failed to deal effectively with corruption. “It has not addressed the vexed issues of putting surpluses from NICIL, lotto and wildlife funds, and monies from dead bank accounts into the revenue stream,” he argued.
He also called for the implementation of the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering Terrorism Act and for teeth to be given to the toothless poodle styled “the Intelligence Unit.” “Not a soul has been investigated, much less prosecuted, for money-laundering and Guyana is wrongly being seen as a haven for money-launderers, drugs trafficking…,” he charged.
Meanwhile, Ramsammy throughout his presentation pressed the opposition to support the budget, saying that the parties can come together on this one important issue.
“I would hope that in the interest of our people, we will all support Budget 2013,” he said, while adding that no matter which side one is on, they must feel some degree of pride that Guyana has made progress in meeting the social welfare needs of its people.
“Some may believe that we could have done even better. But no one can deny the trajectory of development in our country. It is exemplified in many ways,” he said, noting that more people are homeowners today than ever in the country’s history, more people also own vehicles and young people and young professionals are making their dreams come through.
“More of our people are owners of computers. More of our people in settings are connected to the world through the internet. More of our people enjoy the use of what used to be called luxury items–smart cell phones, air conditioners in their homes, washing machines, etc. These are dreams coming through,” Ramsammy boasted.
He also said that Guyana has attained the first Millennium Development Goal– the eradication of extreme poverty and extreme hunger by 2015- and that it is an outstanding achievement.
Meanwhile, Ramsammy, in examining sectors within his portfolio, disclosed that rice has been the star performer in the agriculture sector.
The country, he said, has had two successive years of production of more than 400,000 tonnes of rice and is on trajectory for surpassing last year’s record production of 422,000 tonnes. “Indeed, at the present rate of production, Guyana is on pace of reaching the highest per crop production ever, in this first crop of 2013,” he said.
At the same time, Ramsammy admitted that while the success of rice is cause for celebration, sugar is a cause for a concern. According to him, there are those who believe that sugar is dead but for him it will continue to play a significant role in Guyana’s future of sustainable and accelerated growth and development.
Sugar, he said, will recover and exceed 2012 production, but the challenges will not be overcome this year. “I am not certain that the target established by Minister [Ashni] Singh will be met,” he admitted but added that they are trying their best to begin a new wave of “upward trajectory for sugar production so that we will again reach the level of 300,000 tons by 2015.” Government’s production projection for the sugar industry for this year is 240,000 tonnes, which is lower than the industry’s projection.