As the sun set yesterday the National Assembly approved the proposed $267.1 billion Budget for 2018 after having considered the estimates for the Ministries of Education and Finance on the final day of examination.
The 82nd sitting of the eleventh parliament was delayed for several hours by a motion brought by the Opposition PPP/C but it eventually got underway just after 2 pm when Speaker Barton Scotland disallowed the motion.
The next two hours were spent considering the $19.91 billion budgeted for the Ministry of Education. Of this sum $17.11 billion has been allocated for Current expenditure while $2.8 billion has been approved for Capital Expenditure.
Meanwhile, $28.29 billion in expenditure has been approved for the Ministry of Finance. Of the sum $23.86 billion has been approved for current expenditure while $4.42 billion has been approved for Capital expenditure.
Opposition Parliamentarian Irfaan Ali in leading questions on this Ministry’s allocations asked Minister Winston Jordan to explain a $1 billion increase under line item 6321: Subsidies and Contributions to Local Organisations.
These contributions which were $6.11 billion in 2017 have increased to $7.44 billion in 2018.
Jordan stated that this includes a $1 billion increase in allocations for the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA).
He explained these monies will be used to ramp up efforts to improve tax administration and to support tax reform efforts. Spending will include salaries for an expected 42 new high level-staff members, payment for the ASYCUDA software, the construction of more out-of-town stations as well as provisions for “stopping the TRIPS from tripping.”
The Total Revenue Integrated Processing Systems (TRIPS) according to Jordan has consistently been problematic. In 2017 issues with the provider was the largest contributor to more than $300 million in underspending by GRA.
In the 2017 Capital allocation $891 million was allocated but only $541,000, 000 was used for buildings, software, furniture and equipment.
The Ministry explained that TRIPS was the biggest issue as the provider had previously been paid for promises but a decision was taken in 2017 not to pay until they delivered and they never delivered.
Other issues include the late award for contracts to build living quarters at Anna Regina and New Amsterdam.
Jordan also informed the House that the expected total cost for the ASYCUDA software is US$3.7 million.
Other notable allocations include $200 million for the Special Purpose Unit which is part of the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL). Jordan explained that this sum will mostly be spent for legal and professional fees related to the restructuring of the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo).
A disaggregation of the allocations shows that $6 million is for the production of embedded survey maps of identified estates while $57 million is for a strategic partnership with PricewaterhouseCooper (PwC) the firm that won the bid to undertake a valuation of GuySuCo’s assets for divestment and privatisation.
Thirty million dollars has been allocated for legal firms to assist the Special Purpose Unit with regularization and conveyancing of land as well as movable and immovable property as well as $96 million for employment and $10.2m for advertising, travelling and subsistence
Jordan also revealed that the contract entered into with PwC has a duration of 12 months and a cost of US$370,000.
There has however been no allocations under this line item or any other at the Ministry of Finance for a socioeconomic study into the impact of estate closures.
Alli asked if any other agency is looking at a feasibility study to which the Minister responded that it is not related to the line item even as he expressed a willingness to speak about it after.
Meanwhile, the Low Carbon Development Programme has been allocated $1.35 billion which includes $88.6 million for Institutional strengthening, $339.7 million for the Amerindian Development Fund, $96.4 million for Amerindian Land titling, $234.1 million for micro and small enterprises, $144.6 million for the Cunha Canal rehabilitation, $93.7 million for ICT access for the hinterland, poor and remote communities and $74.5 million for the Green State Economy Development Strategy.
Jordan further related that government has applied for a Caribbean Development Bank loan of which US$75,000 will be used to undertake a study to determine the feasibility of establishing a national development bank. The loan is under negotiation and is expected to be available next year.
An additional $10 million has also been allocated for a Country Poverty Assessment while an increase in line item 6141 Other Employment Costs of more than $500 million has been approved.
Questioned on this increase, Jordan noted that this is an omnibus head which caters for projected salary increases and one-off payments among other things.
“Because agencies are not allowed to budget for vacancies, when permission is given to fill vacancies this amount covers those payments,” Jordan explained. He however revealed under questioning that there is no projection for an end-of-year Public Servants bonus in 2018.
“Unless substantial increase in revenues beyond what we have projected occurs, no. Our budget is in deficit. There is no projection for a bonus,” he stressed.