Ramotar to make cut budget official

-but vows to restore funds

President Donald Ramotar yesterday stated he would assent to the bill passed for the $177.4B national budget but vowed that his administration would take all legal measures to restore funding slashed by the opposition.

Just hours after the AFC sought to justify the cuts from the government’s $208.8B budget blueprint, Ramotar told a news conference that it was important that he sign the Appropriation Bill that was eventually passed by the National Assembly, since refusing to do so would inhibit the government’s ability to carry out its intended works.  “Yes I will have to sign it so we can release the resources,” Ramotar told a news conference at the Office of the President (OP).

Donald Ramotar
Donald Ramotar

He nonetheless said that the cuts were irrational and irresponsible and declared the government’s intentions to use all available means to restore the skimmed amounts, including once again approaching the High Court for a ruling.

Last year, based on a challenge brought by Attorney General Anil Nandlall, acting Chief Justice Ian Chang ruled that “the act of the National Assembly in cutting or reducing the estimates of expenditure laid by the Minister of Finance under Article 218 of the Constitution was outside its constitutional remit.” He, however, also found that the laying and passing of the Appropriation Bill in and by the National Assembly, to which the president assented, was in fact lawful.

Meanwhile, in the face of criticism by government and Private Sector leaders, the AFC yesterday tried to make its case for the cuts, with party leader Khemraj Ramjattan saying that its rational approach to the consideration of the estimates was manifest in its decision to follow through with a proposed motion for a cut or let the proposed amounts passed as untouched, based on the explanations given.

At a press conference, Ramjattan said that each decision to cut was determined by answers provided to questions asked, and said that when the party was unsatisfied with the responses offered, it decided to follow through with their proposed amendments for reductions.

AFC leaders said that the actions taken to reduce the proposed the amounts should serve as a clear indicator to government that there is need to change the way it operates, considering the new dispensation in which it is a minority in the National Assembly. As a result of a second successive year of opposition-led cuts, Ramjattan noted that APNU and the AFC have been invited to meet with the government from July 1st to begin discussion on the 2014 budget and he opined that this tripartite approach would prevent a similar situation next year.

‘We could do
nothing else’

AFC MP Cathy Hughes urged the public to also consider the fact that the party chose to forego proposed cuts for several bodies, including the Guyana Elections Commission (Gecom), the Ministry of Home Affairs, the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs and the Ministry of Housing and Water. This was done, she said, because it believed that the projects to be carried out by these agencies were pertinent to improvement of living conditions for Guyanese.

Hughes also highlighted the fact that amounts intended for the Ministry of Homes Affairs was approved despite the party’s continued lack of confidence in Home Affairs Minister Clement Rohee.

The AFC leaders said that they were forced to follow through with amendments to cut funds for other agencies, since the government failed to satisfactorily justify why the amounts should have been dispensed.

Khemraj Ramjattan
Khemraj Ramjattan

Ramjattan added that the opposition parties attempted to avoid what transpired during the consideration of the estimates by meeting with the government to discuss their concerns. He added that the party presented 11 points which it said needed to be addressed but he noted that after two disappointing sessions, the meetings were called off.  Points the AFC brought before the government included the commissioning of all constitutional commissions, the restructuring of the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) and the freezing of the contract method of hiring employees.

In relation to the issue of contracted workers, the AFC leaders said that they decided against going ahead with proposed cuts for contracted workers attached to OP since it could have had negative implications for ordinary workers. Ramjattan explained that subsequent to cutting amounts in last year’s budget intended for contracted workers, he learned that several cleaners, office assistants and other ordinary employees were affected. “It was an extremely difficult and sensitive situation,” he noted. He said that the government had tied funds intended for so-called “fat cats” to funds intended for regular employees. As a result, he said, “Some people got hit who weren’t supposed to get hit.” The AFC leader claimed that after the amounts were cut last year, “persons at the bottom were laid off to facilitate payments to the top.”

Ramjattan said that throughout the budget debates and the consideration of the estimates persons had lobbied the party in relation to the cuts since the fear that that they would lose their jobs loomed. “We could do nothing else, if we were to do it we would be taking bread out of person’s mouth,” Ramjattan said. AFC MP Moses Nagamootoo added that they have asked government to commit to returning to the system where persons are employed on a personal basis, since this avails them several benefits. This commitment, he said, has not been given.

‘Massive surprise’

Overall, Ramotar said that the cuts came as a “massive surprise,” especially since the government had taken extensive measures to answer questions posed by the AFC and APNU. He said the parties had no justifications for going through with their proposed cuts, since pains were taken to have the technical aspects of all its ongoing and upcoming projects explained to the parties.

He added that the AFC and APNU completely misunderstand the purpose of the contract system. He said that the system provides employees with a choice of either making a career in a particular field, or moving on after their contract would have ended. He also said that none of the points presented by the AFC concerned the budget and thus could not have been part of the rationale for making the cuts.

The AFC admitted that it was regrettable that the entire $5.63 billion, intended to improve the air transport sector, had to be reduced, but added that it would be willing to grant supplementary provisions for all project excluding the Cheddi Jagan International Airport, Timehri (CJIA) expansion project.

On Tuesday, typos in the AFC and APNU motions to cut the Cheddi Jagan International Airport (CJIA) Modernisation Project blocked their application which prompted the combined opposition to vote to cut the entire allocation for the air transport programme from the estimates for the Ministry of Transport and Hydraulics. Due to the fact that non-contentious expenditure for the Ogle Aerodrome assistance, CJIA cooperation, Civil Aviation equipment and Hinterland/Coastal Airstrips projects were also affected by the cut, APNU, and yesterday the AFC invited the government to bring the funding for these projects back to the National Assembly for reconsideration next Tuesday by way of a supplementary provision.

The decision, which drew the criticism of the Chairman of the CJIA Board, Ramesh Dookhoo, was also criticised by the president yesterday. Ramotar said that the cuts to funding for the airport’s extension could hamper opportunities for increased funding as well as hurt prospects for future investment. Dookhoo had said that will result in loss of investor confidence and jeopardise both security and businesses at the facility.

Ramotar also alluded to cuts made to the Amalia Falls project and the construction of the Specialty Hospital, stating that such an action will deprive Guyanese from accessing relatively cheap access to electricity and health care. The AFC, who also addressed these issues yesterday, said that the cuts were made because the government failed to satisfactorily rationalise the estimates for the projects which resulted in them being cut.

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