Former Auditor General of Guyana Anand Goolsarran says Minister of Finance Dr. Ashni Singh should not overstep his boundaries by making financing available for certain projects although they would have been cut from the budget during the consideration of the estimates in April.
And he said too that Government cannot use the vehicle of a supplementary provision to tap the Contingencies Fund since the conditions under which that Fund could be accessed would not have been met.
In January this year Minister Singh in an answer provided to the National Assembly following a question from APNU MP Carl Greenidge, said, “Where the sums approved by the National Assembly under the Appropriation Act 2012 were found to be inadequate to meet the services of government, supplementary financing was resorted to in accordance with the law.”
He said that the Constitution and the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act 2003 provide a legal basis for making such payments.
In an interview with this newspaper yesterday, Goolsarran said that the actions of the Government to seek to sidestep the National Assembly and restore items cut from the budget is a blatant attempt at undermining the authority of the Parliament. Last week, Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs Anil Nandlall disclosed that Government was going ahead with the construction of the Specialty Hospital and had awarded a consultancy contract to oversee the works executed by Surendra Engineering which was the company that won the bid for the construction of the facility.
In April, the opposition slashed $31 billion from the $208.8 billion 2013 budget. The $20 billion allocation for the Low Carbon Develop-ment Strategy was cut by $19 billion; $5.2 billion was cut from the $10.2 billion proposed for the Guyana Power and Light (GPL); $1.2 billion for the specialty hospital project was also snipped along with the entire air transport allocation of $5.63 billion under the Ministry of Public Works. Also coming under the knife was GINA, which had its allocation of $135.858 million reduced to $1; NCN’s $81.337 million was also cut to $1.
Goolsarran, now the President of Transparency Institute of Guyana Inc., said that the Minister of Finance could draw funds from the Contingencies Fund, but then there are certain criteria that must be met before he could do so. “The expenditure has to be urgent and unforeseen for which no provision exists, the expenditure cannot be postponed without jeopardising the public interest,” he said.
“If the National Assembly votes down the money he ought not to go to the Contingencies Fund because that would undermine the authority of the Parliament. In addition, the expenditure would no longer be unforeseen,” he said.
“In other words the Contingencies Fund could only be used if you have a national emergency like an earthquake or in the case of the 2005 floods,” he said.
He said that in these cases the Government would need to act quickly to avert disaster and hence the need for going to the Contingencies Fund.
“So if Parliament does not approve of a sum to build the specialty hospital, you can’t cut around the authority of Parliament and take money from the Contingencies Fund to fund the hospital…they did that in 2011 and I wrote strongly about that. It was a big violation and the Minister would have been guilty of an offence.
I wrote saying anytime you use the Contingencies Fund to circumvent the authority of Parliament that’s an offence because that becomes unauthorised expenditure and the Minister of Finance can be held liable,” he said.
“If they say they are going ahead with the Specialty Hospital and the Parliament did not approve the money then where are they getting the money from?” he asked. “It is obvious that they are getting it from NICIL,” he said. “All of the privatisation money…all of the sale of assets money, instead of putting it in the Consolidated Fund they are diverting the money to NICIL,” he said, noting that the US$30 million garnered from the sale of the Government’s shares in Guyana Telephone and Telegraph (GT&T) suffered that very fate.
On the fact that GINA and NCN are still operating even after cuts to their budget, he said that it is possible that these agencies made cutbacks to keep their staff going or they got money from elsewhere. He said that this could include NICIL, the Guyana Forestry Commission (GFC) or the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC). He noted that these two semi-autonomous agencies make hundreds of millions in surpluses yearly.
He said that as a general principle, any state agency could retain a portion of its earnings as a reserve to meet emergencies. “Under no circumstance should any of these state agencies pay over monies to NICIL,” he said. “If they pay to NICIL then NICIL has to pay it over to the Consolidated Fund,” he said.