Minister of Social Protection Amna Ally found herself under scrutiny on Friday evening when the National Assembly’s Committee of Supply heard that the government has not yet paid $1.5 million in Value-Added tax (VAT) for a vehicle purchased for her that is already in use.
“Is the Honourable Minister telling this House and the people of Guyana that the Government of Guyana took credit from a supplier of $1.574 million and we are using a vehicle that has not been paid for in full?” PPP/C Member of Parliament (MP) Juan Edghill questioned during the consideration of the Supplementary Appropriation Bill No. 1 of 2017. “Yes,” Ally stood and firmly responded.
Edghill followed up by asking the minister to reference under which law the government is allowed to conduct transactions on credit.
“Mr Speaker, I am the Minister of Social Protection, I’m not a lawyer…,” Ally said, while the end of her response was drowned out by uproar from the opposition members. “…This is a question that the minister at least must attempt to answer,” Speaker of the House Dr Barton Scotland stated, before getting Ally to commit to providing the information at a later date.
Supplementary expenditure was sought for land transportation and included among the funds requested was a sum of $1,574,113 for a land cruiser bought for the Minister of Social Protection; an additional sum of $1,000,050 for the purchase of three ATVs; and an additional $925,120 for use in conducting operations by the labour department.
Questioned on the need for these supplementary sums, Ally stated that it was for the payment of VAT on the vehicles as this had not been budgeted for.
Minister of Public Health Volda Lawrence, who formerly served in the capacity of Minister of Social Protection, rose to provide clarity on the matter to the House after Edghill queried whether any of the bids received had been VAT-inclusive. Ally had related that she had no knowledge of whether any bids were made.
“At the time of budgeting for 2017 for these vehicles, when we put out the tender, the cost that came back to us was exclusive of VAT. After the passing of the budget, these items attracted VAT and hence the minister is before the House asking for that additional sum so that we can pay for those items…,” Lawrence said.
She also noted that the procurement was done via open tender through the National Procurement and Tender Administration Board.
Asked by PPP/C MP Irfaan Ali whether the tendering was done while the budget was being debated as she had initially claimed, Ally said that she would have to provide that information at a later date. She also committed to supplying the National Assembly with a response on whether there was one contract award for the purchase of the vehicles, or three separate contracts.
It was later revealed, following questioning by Edghill, that of the vehicles bought, which Ally related were all purchased from Car Care, only the one procured for use by the minister has since been received, although VAT has not yet been paid. This then raised the question posed by PPP/C MP Gail Teixeira, who queried whether the minister had been granted special privileges based on her ministerial status. “Can the Honourable Member advise then that an exception was made for the minister’s car to be released without VAT being paid as I understand GRA [the Guyana Revenue Authority] and everybody is after everybody to pay before a vehicle is released? So you got a special exception, Ms Minister…?”
“That might be so,” Ally curtly responded.
The amounts presented were all approved as part of the estimates put forth.