The Speaker of the National Assembly Dr Barton Scotland needs training in order to ensure proper parliamentary scrutiny of public expenditure, according to Leader of the Opposition Bharrat Jagdeo, who says ministers of government also need to be more responsive to questions posed by the opposition.
Speaking at a news conference last week at his Queenstown, Georgetown office, Jagdeo said that he met with a Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) team which expressed a desire do a training project to improve the skills of local Members of Parliament (MPs) in interrogating public expenditure.
He said while he supports such a project and the opposition MPs will attend, he told the CDB team that if the goal is greater transparency, it was not the lack of training of MPs that have led to less accountability or less transparency in the Parliament. “The Speaker himself needs to be trained to understand public expenditure and linkages and to give enough time for proper interrogation of public expenditure,” he said.
For example, he said that information was not readily forthcoming from those who are accountable and he claimed that Minister of Finance Winston Jordan is not made to account whenever he rises and says “Oh I don’t have that information available” or “We did that yesterday.”
Jagdeo said if the opposition tries to interrogate an office holder who is responsible for public expenditure, “Our Speaker will say ‘stay relevant.’ You can’t even digress because he does not understand linkages between variables. Sometimes, you have to start by setting up the case. Adequate time in the Parliament is necessary for this.”
He also criticised the responsiveness of ministers, whom he said fail to adequately address questions. “We ask hundreds of questions and we get one-line answers,” he noted. “We can’t get any closer to who collected all of the money – the $700 million from private sources – for the building of the D’Urban Park property. We don’t know who these individuals are because they have not submitted the statements. We have spent $900 million of public money and we can’t even find out anything. They do not have records of this. That is the problem of interrogating public expenditure.”
While there is need for more training of MPs, Jagdeo maintained that the heart of the matter is that the opposition does not get the opportunity to interrogate public expenditure. “We have a government that does not give answers and are hiding a lot of things,” he said.
Just recently, he noted, he heard that the building that government is renting to accommodate the Guyana Gold Board in Queenstown was the campaign headquarters of APNU+AFC in the run up to the May, 2015 elections.
“They have decided to burn the mercury there in the city again, Can’t they just take it out of town and to some place where we have no people living there? They are putting at risk probably thousands of people in Queenstown once again. They would say all the systems are in place, but one failure of the system could lead to contamination and put at risk all the people,” he also said.
The Gold Board has said it is installing a system that will make the burning of the gold amalgam safe.