The Committee of Supply yesterday unanimously approved the $6.9 billion Housing and Water budget, even after concerns over how the ministry would be dispensing $484 million under a new Community Infrastructure Improve-ment Project (CIIP).
APNU MP Dr Karen Commings raised concerns that the CIIP under capital expenditures was in fact redundant as regional budgets have been allocated to improve infrastructure. She noted that the fact that the large sum was to be distributed through the ministry was reflective of a top down approach instead of empowering community leaders, who would have a better grasp of what areas needed rehabilitation and structural improvements. Dr Cummings asked whether the CIIP would not be better suited under the Local Government Ministry to reduce the redundancy being created.
In response to Dr Cummings, Minister Irfaan Ali stated that ministry also had a vested interest in community development and that the programme would not be placed under local government.
He noted that the over $1 billion allocated for the Community Roads Improvement Programme (CRIP) in 2014 was to finalise payments. The CIIP, he explained, was created out of CRIP from ongoing discussions on how to move beyond CRIP, which would expire this year. Ali’s explanations led many on the opposition side of the House to require more information of him. His answers were ambiguous, which was highlighted by the APNU’s Joseph Harmon, who stated that much of what the minister was addressing as the programmes facilities was “fluff.”
Harmon asked the minister to name two certified projects under the CIIP. Ali mentioned that communities across Guyana have complained about the condition of burial grounds and that the money would be used for the rehabilitation of burial grounds. However, this revelation secured Dr Cummings previous notion that the CIIP was redundant because Regional Democratic Councils are located a budget for the rehabilitation of cemeteries.
Harmon questioned if Le Repentir cemetery would be given a sum under this initiative. Ali stated that the various works still needed to be finalised. Harmon was not satisfied with Ali’s answered and kept pressing for more information on the actual facts of how the $484 million will be disbursed.
AFC MP Moses Nagamootoo asked Ali how exactly the ministry could say that over 1,500 jobs will be created from the CIIP. He said that a job impact study would have to be done and with the first quarter of the year almost finished, he would have thought the ministry would have been more proactive on a new programme, especially since the CRIP was coming to an end.
Ali said that the 1,500 jobs were an estimate. APNU’s Vanessa Kissoon grilled Ali about how many of the jobs would go to Region 10, which had been promised the creation of 2,000 jobs since the general election in 2011. Ali could not give a definitive answer but said that he expected the types of jobs would vary.
Ali spent time speaking about the CRIP and noting that the list for road works was already determined for the year. APNU’s Basil Williams was not satisfied and he noted that road work done in 2013 under the programme was not done to a high standard. Ali stated that a list of the new roads would be provided to the House, but he did not venture into what would be done to correct the defects in roads rehabilitated last year.
Chairman of the Committee of Supply Raphael Trotman was forced to adjourn the meeting for a five-minute break while Williams was asking his questions. Trotman stated that there were too many voices in the House and the questions had to be asked without the longwinded backstories.
The ministry’s budget was eventually approved, including an allocation of $532 million for the ongoing Georgetown Sanitation Improvement Programme. Members of the opposition asked the minister why no provisions have been set aside to notify the public on which roads would be closed to facilitate the rehabilitation. Ali stated that in fact newspaper advertisements have been budgeted for as part of the programme to notify the public.