Budget estimates for scrutiny from Monday

-after opposition outvotes gov’t

Parliament’s Committee of Supply will begin consideration of the budget estimates on Monday instead of today after a sub-committee meeting yesterday saw the opposition outvoting the government side.

In continuing unprecedented occurrences in the 10th Parliament, the opposition sought extra time to ensure that one of its MPs who is hospitalised can be replaced, for further detailed examination of the budget with their experts  and perhaps also for continuing dialogue with the government before planned cuts.

However, the House will still be meeting today after an unprecedented scenario played out late last night. Because Raphael Trotman is a non-elected Speaker of the National Assembly and because of there being a tie in votes following a call for a division, the motion to adopt a report of the sub-committee meeting was “lost”.

The Opposition is preparing itself for a repeat of last year which saw numerous items of expenditure cut from the budget and both A Partnership for National Unity and the Alliance For Change have indicated their intention to cut out illegal spending from the budget.

The House is to resume at 14:00 hours today following the deadlock in the voting in the Committee of Supply on whether or not to adopt the report of the Business Sub-Committee.

“The Opposition called for a division on the votes and the votes were equally divided,” Clerk of the National Assembly Sherlock Isaacs said last night. He added that according to Standing Order 48 (2) when a non-elected Speaker is in the Chair and the votes on a motion are equally divided the motion is lost.

So the Government lost the motion. Then we had to go back and seek resort in Standing Order 8, which states among other things that unless the Assembly otherwise decides, every adjournment of the Assembly shall be to the next sitting day,” he said. “It means that if the Assembly does not fix a date for the next sitting, then it will be on the next sitting day,” Isaacs explained.

He said that because of the unprecedented nature of the business last night, he is not sure what to place on the Order Paper for today’s sitting. “The problem is I don’t know,” said Isaacs. “Because the Opposition’s schedule is for the consideration to begin on Monday, [while] the Government’s schedule is for tomorrow (today). But the Government’s proposal was defeated in the meeting of the Committee and of the Assembly,” he said.

Earlier in the evening at the end of the closing speech to the budget debates by Minister of Finance Dr. Ashni Singh, Speaker Trotman said that the Standing Orders never contemplated the Minister of Finance not giving his agreement to the deliberations of the Committee of Supply’s Business Sub-Committee. However in this case, the Minister would not have been supportive of the Committee’s report since Government lost to the Opposition to have the consideration of the estimates commence today, instead of Monday as was the wish of the Opposition.

Trotman was of the view that both the majority’s report – that of the Opposition – and the minority’s view of Government should be put to the House and so he did, leading to the deadlock resulting from the Opposition being a man short – Richard Allen who is recovering in hospital following collapsing in the House on Thursday.

Cardboard

Minister of Finance Singh said while the Opposition made some suggestions in the budget debate, he expressed surprise at comments from Leader of the Opposition David Granger who wrote off the budget as “cardboard.”

The Minister said Opposition speakers during the debate addressed very little of what was in the budget.

During his criticisms of the Opposition, he said that they should have at the very least acknowledged what Government has done which matches some of what the Opposition parties had in their manifesto.

The Minister defended what he referred to as transformational projects in the Marriott Hotel and Amaila Falls hydro project and urged the Opposition not to derail them but seek any information they need. He said Government is willing to provide answers on these projects.

In the case of the Marriott, the Minister cited this as an investment Government was making to catalyse investment in the tourism sector.  He cited examples in Trinidad and other countries in the region where Government invested in such infrastructure.

As for the Amaila project, the Minister said that stymieing this project could lead to Guyana having to wait another generation for such a venture to come on stream.

The Minister said the Opposition was far removed from the people of Guyana and hence out of touch with realities on the ground. He spoke of the kudos Government received on the budget from stakeholders at a recent meeting at the Office of the President. This he said included the Private Sector Commission and the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Guyana (FITUG). “Well bring them here to vote for it,” an Opposition member heckled. The Minister said the Opposition is opposing for the sake of opposing only.

Granger slammed budget 2013 as “cardboard” saying it does not help create jobs, reduce crime or address poverty and called for it to be rejected.

Speaking just prior to the Minister in his budget debate presentation in the National Assembly last night Granger called the budget exclusionary, anti-poor and anti-people.

“The budget is not a Treasurer’s report, it is not an annual general meeting or an exercise in accounts,” he said. “Budget 2013 was not intended to change the lives of young people.

He said that there has been growth but that growth has been jobless,” he said. He said country facing a dire social situation. “We are sleepwalking into a social nightmare,” he said. He said ranks of the jobless swelling because of budgets like this one before the country.

Granger said that the forces of poverty and hatred were pulling people apart. He said Government failed to implement root and branch reforms into the security sector.

“We are still in the throes of criminal violence which plagued this country in the 2000s,” he said. “Guyana is bleeding…administration has not addressed crime…government refused to convene a commissioner of inquiry into Lusignan,” he said.

He said poverty can be reduced with good governance. But he said this is not evident from the administration.

Granger said budget must be amended if people are to see real changes in their lives. APNU cannot support the budget and we are still open to talks with the Government [to craft a budget which could be supported],” he said.