The National Assembly last evening approved a total of $116.3M in supplementary funds for the State Assets Recovery Agency (SARA), after House Speaker Dr Barton Scotland overruled objections by the opposition PPP/C to the manner in which the requests for the allocations were made.
The allocations were contained in Financial Paper No. 2, which Finance Minister Winston Jordan laid in the House last week to request supplementary provisions totalling $2,514,679,330 on the current and capital estimates for the period January to December, 2017.
The requested allocations included the sum of $89,897,285, which was sought by the Ministry of Legal Affairs for five managerial staff, 13 technical staff, 12 supervisory and clerical staff, and 12 services and related staff for SARA.
During consideration of the request, PPP/C Member of Parliament (MP) Anil Nandlall noted that the SARA legislation does not identify a subject minister as the authority for the organisation and, therefore, he questioned why the request was being made under the Ministry of Legal Affairs.
Minister of Legal Affairs Basil Williams SC, however, stated that he is the minister designated to SARA under the law.
PPP/C MP Juan Edghill subsequently questioned the authority for which Williams was requesting the supplementary provisions, given that it was not included in the 2017 budgetary allocations.
Answering the question, Finance Minister Jordan explained that because it was a supplementary allocation, it did not require a previous line item in the budget.
PPP/C MP Gail Teixeira also highlighted that the SARA legislation did not make any provision for any release of money from the Consolidated Fund and, therefore, it is expected to raise its own funds and finance itself. Williams, in response, explained that since the body “only became legal recently on May 4,” the money is being requested to operationalise the agency.
However, Teixeira said that while she doesn’t doubt that the authority has to be operationalised, the government should bring an amendment to the law to allow money to be released to the agency. “…And therefore I am proposing that all the items regarding SARA under current and capital be postponed until the Act is put in place,” Teixeira said.
Following up on issue, PPP/C MP Irfaan Ali pointed out that the request that was being made did not conform to the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act (FMAA), but Natural Resources Minister Raphael Trotman pointed out that the House had ruled in favour of a similarly formatted request in 2013, while the PPP/C was in government. Trotman, who had been Speaker at that time, also pointed out that some two weeks ago, a supplementary request with the same format was passed without any objections.
After much contention between the two sides of the House on whether the ruling in 2013 was applicable in the current situation, the Speaker said that the ruling should be applied.
Meanwhile, Nandlall requested that Williams relate to the House the names of the SARA members of staff and their remuneration, which would be covered by the request. Williams said that while he would lay over a list of the positions and the remuneration today, the names would not be included.
Under capital expenditure, Williams also sought $13 million for land and water transport and $13,424,000 for furniture and equipment for SARA. Williams explained that the former will be used to procure two pick-up vehicles for the agency, which currently does not have any vehicles of its own. The second allocation was said to be for furniture, a television, a fridge, a photocopier, and a projector, among other items.
The vote for the two capital expenditure requests saw a division, resulting in approval by 33 government votes to 27 opposition votes against.