There is as yet no agreement on Budget 2014 discussions

Dear Editor,

In last Friday’s (Sept 27) issue of the Stabroek News it was reported that the Minister of Finance had taken an initiative to invite the two opposition parties to consultations on the 2014 Budget. I read the piece with a little more than passing interest because of the reasons given for meeting its objectives.

The piece also suggested that in the past had the opposition parties “…been included in the consultations prior to the budget being laid in the National Assembly, the..[sic] parties argued, they could have raised the issues of the unnecessary amounts at that time, therefore avoiding being forced to make the cuts…”

Please permit me to first of all remind readers that the three political parties had agreed, in the light of the unhappy experiences with arrangements for discussing the Budgets 2012 and 2013, to have their representatives submit written proposals for future budget discussions. In that context the Minister of Finance and I were to convey proposals via an exchange of letters, which, if they could not be agreed, would be referred to the full meeting for resolution. In keeping with that decision I triggered the process by sending a proposal to the MOF on September 10. He responded on the 24th inviting the parties to a meeting on the following day. Since the notice was too short to convene all the interested parties, he was invited to suggest an alternative date. I assume that the SN piece was referring to that exchange.

The interpretation of these events is interesting but not helpful because they may lead to unwarranted expectations. Contrary to the headline of the 27th there is as yet no agreement on Budget 2014 discussions.  The purpose of the exercise consequent on my letter is to agree on an approach to discussing how best to present future budgets (2014+) which at least 33 MPs will support.

When there is agreement on that goal and a process, the two sides can sit down under the framework of tripartite Budget 2014 discussions. Obviously, for the latter to be fruitful the preferences and concerns of those 33 will need to be taken into account in the speech and annual estimates.  The opposition is not seeking to write the budget but if, as in the past, it is written as though is it none of their business they cannot be expected to vote for it. The purpose of the deliberations therefore is far more than the avoidance of cuts.
The aim will be to do the following, amongst other things:

1.  ensure that the estimates conform to the requirements of the law and the constitution;

a.  We have in the past drawn to the government’s attention our unwillingness to embrace budget arrangement that do not conform to the constitution and the law – the refusal to treat with the constitutional offices as provided for in the constitution, to consult with the regions and to reflect in the estimates the requests of the representatives as opposed to those of the Ministry of Local Government and the MOF.

2.  discuss short term and long terms goals and objectives and the policies for achieving them;

3.  the criteria used by the government in arriving at the expenditures (between sectors and between current and capital projects) they propose and especially the criteria for selecting investment projects to be funded by the state, the PSIP;
4.  tax and revenue policies;

5.  employment and the wages policies;

6.  procurement issues including the establishment of the Public Procurement Commission.

Many of the thoughts of the APNU have already been set out in relation to these areas in a number of /notes sent to the Minister of Finance in the course of 20012 and 2013.

It needs to be pointed out that the suggestion carried by your newspaper to the effect that in the past opposition concerns were simply about not being included in consultations prior to the Appropriations Bill being laid and the speech read, is erroneous. At issue is the government’s attitude to consultations. If the government is seeking the support of opposition MPs the consultations cannot be simply a matter of telling us to list the things we would wish to see included in the budget. The experience has been that after seeing the list the government side proceeds to dismiss all the proposals on grounds that there is no money or on the basis of often spurious economics such as that of the VAT being a luxury tax.

There are fundamental issues at hand and if there is no agreement on a reasonable process nothing fruitful will come out of another 2012/13-type budget consultation.

Yours faithfully,
Carl B Greenidge

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