Main opposition APNU yesterday vowed to “strip and dismantle” the contract system for state employees and said it would closely scrutinise proposed budgetary allocations for NCN and OP, among other entities, to ensure they deserve the money allocated for them.
APNU parliamentarian Basil Williams dubbed as “ill-informed” claims by government that the ruling of acting Chief Justice Ian Chang on the legitimacy of the 2012 budgets cuts establishes grounds against similar actions this year. He made the comment at a press briefing yesterday during which fellow parliamentarian Carl Greenidge as well as party executive Joseph Harmon also spoke on the budget debates and the consideration of the estimates by the parliamentary Committee of Supply which begins next week.
After the opposition had slashed several items from last year’s budget and substantially decreasing funding to particular agencies, the government through Minister of Legal Affairs and Attorney General Anil Nandlall had moved to the courts. Justice Chang, in an interim ruling, said the National Assembly did not have the power to cut the budget but the court could not restore the funding sought by government, except for allocations to the Ethnic Relations Commission, which is a constitutional agency and entitled to draw directly from the Consolidated Fund.
Justice Chang, while finding that the National Assembly acted outside of its remit in reducing the budget, also ruled that the Appropriation Bill passed by Parliament inclusive of the budget cuts was assented to by President Donald Ramotar and was constitutional.
As such, Williams said, there was no order on the part of the Chief Justice prohibiting any future cuts from being made. “There was nothing whatsoever in the judgment which spoke to the fact that the legislature cannot cut the budget, and passing the Appropriation Act after last year’s cuts were made, shows the cuts were accepted and shows the National Assembly has the power to cut it,” said Williams.
Meanwhile, asked about the party’s posture on the allocation of funds to the National Communications Network (NCN) and the Office of the President (OP) in the light of last year’s funding cuts to those entities, Greenidge said that in both instances the government will have to justify the amounts it wishes to direct at these bodies.
Greenidge said a social and cultural audit will have to be carried out at NCN to determine if the media house acknowledges its obligations to the Guyanese people, especially since it is looking to benefit from taxpayers’ dollars.
Harmon stated that as part of this process, APNU is calling on the president to release the report on investigations into wrongdoing at NCN, which were carried out last year. He said that a statement saying “the President has done what has to be done on this matter,” issued after the investigation, was unacceptable. Finally, he said that the company must be intensely scrutinised to determine if it required state funding since “it makes no sense pumping monies into a company which can sustain itself.”
As it relates to OP, Greenidge argued that in this body, as well as throughout Guyana’s public service institutions, it has become the norm for persons to be hired on a contractual basis rather than the conventional way of making them full-fledged staff. He said there are many cases where these set-ups avail contracted employees exorbitant salaries and other benefits, which in many cases do not reflect their qualifications nor the quality or quantity of work they do.
He added that this non-conventional way of hiring employees takes away security of tenure and enables employers to easily terminate anyone who fails to fall in line with the government’s status quo, especially since contracted workers are not represented by unions. Furthermore, he said, this set up has been facilitated by the government’s interference in the functioning of the Public Service Commission, the Appellate Tribunal and the Police Service Commission. Greenidge opined that the combined effects of these actions have led to the demoralisation of the public service which by extension causes the many inefficiencies experienced in Guyana.
Commenting on the issue, Williams said the opposition intends to “strip and dismantle the contract system which destroys security of tenure and undermines the unions.”
Speaking on amounts intended for GuySuCo and the Guyana Power and Light (GPL), Greenidge said these figures need to be thoroughly examined. He said large sums were given to both entities last year and large sums have once again been proposed for the entities in the 2013 budget.
In the case of GPL, Greenidge said sums last year were given amidst promises that the company would fix the problems which were causing it to haemorrhage money. He also said that the sugar industry has failed to produce the returns expected, despite the construction of the factory at Skeldon. Greenidge said explanations will have to be given as to why these companies continue to underperform despite the considerable funding received from government.
APNU also defended the opposition’s decision to delay the consideration of the estimates by the Committee of Supply. On Wednesday, the combined opposition used its majority to push the consideration of the proposed budget estimates to next Monday resulting in Finance Minister Dr Ashni Singh charging that it was an abuse of its one seat majority. Singh said that it was not normal practice for the consideration of the estimates not to immediately follow the debates.
However, Greenidge yesterday said that the Committee of Supply is not a convenience for the government. He said the deadline for the consideration of estimates is April 30, which leaves ample time for the seven days needed to consider the figures.
“The government is coming to the legislature for money to carry out their proposed projects,” said Greenidge adding that any assumptions that the legislature is to act at the behest of government is a clear sign that the government is “arrogant” and “confused.”