The opposition yesterday used its majority to break a deadlock with government to push the consideration of the proposed budget estimates for this year to next Monday, in a move that Finance Minister Dr. Ashni Singh called another example of APNU and the AFC abusing their one-seat parliamentary majority.
The swearing in of new APNU MP Rennita Williams and the absence of PPP/C MP Dr. Vindhya Persaud tipped the scales in the opposition’s favour when voting on the adoption of two reports from the Committee of Supply’s Business Sub-Committee was done yesterday afternoon.
As a result, government’s proposed schedule for the consideration of the estimates to begin yesterday with the Ministry of Home Affairs and Office of the President—under which the opposition has signalled its intention to vote down allocations—was defeated.
On Monday, the consideration of the estimates will begin with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and moves on to the Ministry of Legal Affairs, Ministry of Agriculture and Ministry of Education, in keeping with the normal schedule, which was proposed and approved by the opposition using its majority.
While she was present for Tuesday’s sitting despite the recent loss of her father, Dr. Persaud was absent for yesterday’s sitting. With her absence and Williams being sworn in, the opposition was never in doubt of defeating the government on both the majority and minority reports coming out of the Business Sub-Committee meeting.
Tuesday’s sitting, which extended into the early hours of yesterday morning, had seen a deadlock due to a tie in the votes to adopt the two reports, resulting in them being recommitted to the Business Sub-Committee yesterday. APNU insisted that the reason for its seeking a delay in the commencement of the consideration of the estimates was to consult with its experts on the measures in the budget.
It also believed that it needed more time to make decisions on allocations that it would not approve. However, it is also believed that it really wanted to make sure that it put in place a replacement for Richard Allen, the Region 1 MP who fell ill last Thursday and had to be hospitalised, ruling out his participation.
Allen’s resignation on Tuesday resulted in both sides having an equal amount of votes, while the government had sought to start the consideration of the estimates yesterday in a bid to spare allocations for the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Office of the President, for which the opposition would have been required to give adequate notice ahead of cuts.
Minister of Finance Dr. Ashni Singh yesterday said the delay to Monday is yet another abuse of the opposition majority and noted that it is not normal practice for the consideration of the estimates not to immediately follow the debates.
The Government Informa-tion Agency (GINA) quoted Minister Singh as saying that the Speaker made it clear in the Business Sub-Committee meeting that it was the government which would determine the order of sectors for consideration.
“It’s the government’s estimates and we are bringing those estimates before the House for consideration,” Dr. Singh is quoted as saying.
“To our astonishment, an alarming lack of flexibility was displayed by the opposition who took it upon themselves, that notwithstanding government’s willingness to flex they were not willing to budge on any point.
The date must be their date; the number of hours must be the number of hours that they want; the issue of going beyond the allotted time, they must get the time, they must get the seven days, and they must determine the sequence,” Singh added.
Singh also pointed out that the opposition had the majority in the committee. “They have five, we, four and that majority was used to conclude a majority report which got the opposition their way. So with five to four votes in a sub-committee they secured their own way and accommodated no request by the government,” he added.
The Minister also noted the delays occasioned by the swearing in of APNU’s new member and the speeches that followed, which he said were a deliberate attempt to stall the proceedings until late comers arrived.
“The welcome messages were designed clearly to stall the business until their tardy members arrived… When the last person arrived, they immediately ending the charade of the welcoming of the new MP and moved into the business,” Singh also said.