Vote for national good

-PPP urging opposition on budget

With both APNU and the AFC signalling their intention to vote against planned expenditure for contentious government projects, like the Cheddi Jagan International Airport, Timehri (CJIA) expansion, PPP/C MP Irfaan Ali yesterday called for them to view the spending as being for the national good.

Ali told a PPP press conference at Freedom House that proposed allocations, including those for GuySuCo, GPL, the Amaila Falls Hydropower Project and NCN, were critical investments and opposition members ought to view them “as nationalistic Guyanese.”

During last week’s debate on the proposed $208.8B budget, opposition speakers stated they would seek to cut the planned allocations in light of concerns about the projects and the government’s lack of accountability to the National Assembly.

Ali stated that the funds being invested into the sugar industry were necessary because the sector “is too big to fail” and in this regard he pointed to the over US$100M contribution in foreign exchange from the industry and the 120,000 persons that are dependent on it.

The power company, GPL, he added, is not receiving a “handout” but was receiving crucial funds that would provide individual saving of over $34,000 annually to customers.

He said the $5.8B allocated for GPL was to “negate a possible tariff increase of almost 28% as a responsible measure to protect and safeguard consumers.”

Finance Minister Dr Ashni Singh had announced that government would commit $1B to GuySuCo to help the company meet the financing requirements of its transformation plans.

Singh also announced that operating and capital transfers totalling $5.8B were proposed to support GPL’s meeting its cash flow requirements, in addition to a further $5.4B to support key GPL projects, such as the upgrade of its transmission and distribution network.

Addressing the opposition’s warnings of its intention to cut some of the funding, Ali said the government would “call on the opposition to be responsible and rational in their political quest.”

The Amaila Falls Hydropower Project, he noted, will reduce the fuel import bill by approximately 20% to 25%, which will save the country more than US$90M dollars on imported fuel, and would also contribute six points to real GDP and reduce generation cost between 20% and 40%.”

Ali did not mention how the funding of these projects will affect Guyana’s economic standing during development.

He did note that through the budget outreach programmes that the government continued to conduct after the budget reading, citizens seem inclined to welcome the measures that the government has planned. The opposition, however, has noted that during its respective outreaches, citizens have voiced differing opinions.

Meanwhile, Ali also stated that for entities that had their budgets almost totally cut in 2012, such as NCN, the budget was still reflective of a subvention in 2013. “We see this as a critical investment that is required for the national good.

For example, NCN does a lot of things in the national interest,” he said, while adding that the network brings cricket through various licensing deals and is the national broadcaster for cultural and public events.

Ali was questioned about whether NCN, which reported a $500M profit in 2011, needed a government subvention when it was able to hire additional staff and set up new departments without the $211M subvention that had been proposed in 2012’s budget. A subvention of $81M is proposed in the 2013 budget, Ali noted, saying that the government had significantly reduced NCN’s budget allotment and that the entity did respond with an in-house clean-up, which the opposition lobbied for last year.

APNU has declared its intentions of voting down the subvention again this year, saying that President Donald Ramotar, who is also Information Minister, needs to release the reports on the financial irregularities at NCN publicly.

The opposition has stated that if NCN is to continue receiving public funds, then transparency is a must. The opposition has also noted that NCN, as the state media, needs to ensure that it is more responsible and unbiased in its reporting and coverage.
Last June, an investigation was launched into NCN’s financial record keeping in relation to payment received by GT&T, which resulted in the former CEO Mohamed Sattaur resigning while Programme Manager Martin Goolsarran was suspended.

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