Although saying it is expected that “some party work” will be done during government outreaches, Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo yesterday accused the APNU+AFC administration of indulging in “beyond obscene” level spending to carry out such activities.
“This is a shocking sort of abuse. No doubt they will continue this sort of thing,” Jagdeo told a press conference yesterday at his Queenstown, Georgetown office, while referring to the growth in government spending for local travel.
Over the past two weeks, President David Granger has held what have been dubbed “community meetings” at Corriverton and Anna Regina, two municipalities dominated by the PPP/C, and urged residents to consider new leadership when they vote at next month’s local government polls.
During his visits to the areas, he has been accompanied by both government and party officials. Another meeting is slated for today at Rose Hall, another PPP/C stronghold.
“Now, I don’t have a problem if the president goes to visit somewhere once in a while and he does some party work. That is fine. But this President has not seen it fit to go into the Rupununi for ages,” he said, while contending that in recent weeks President Granger visited the Rupununi twice and is going back on October 14th to officiate at the opening of another town day.
Asked how he could criticise the president and his ministers when he, as president, his ministers and even permanent secretaries were campaigning for the People’s Progressive Party/ Civic (PPP/C) during general elections periods using state resources, Jagdeo said, “Incumbency always has an advantage. If the president goes or a minister goes, they will always do some party work. It is normal.”
He added, “They used to criticise us for this but this is beyond obscene.”
If the president and ministers were travelling all the year round, he said, it would have been fine. However, he noted that such was not the case.
Noting that spending on local travel and subsistence have gone up by $732 million a year from 2014, he said that other transport, travel and postage have also gone up by $468 million.
The two together, he said, represented more than over $1 billion a year that the government is spending on local travel and subsistence compared to when the PPP was in government. “Over $1 billion and the watchdog agencies are not saying anything,” he said.
In the 2016 local government elections, he claimed that ministers made about 15 trips to the Mabaruma municipality in the space of a month. When the president and the ministers travel in the rural areas, he said, they charter aircrafts. “You see three aircrafts on the ground for party purposes. This is obscenity.”
Recently, he noted that the President went to Corriverton and Anna Regina and in his People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR) colours, handed out to school children, bicycles. The PNCR is the largest constituent member of APNU, which Granger also leads.
At Anna Regina, he said, “Children were forced to accept bicycles at a political event that was announced as an APNU (A Platform for National Unity) rally.” Jagdeo questioned where funding was coming from for the purchases of bicycles, buses and other handouts that the president was giving out to communities in the name of his party.
While the president and ministers could get aircrafts to charter, he said, just over the weekend the Region Nine (Upper Takutu/Upper Essequibo) chairman told him he could not get funding from government to charter an aircraft to take food to South Rupununi.
During his meeting at Corriverton last week, President Granger said, “It would better if you have an APNU municipality, so that people with a vision can improve the livelihoods of the residents, 12,000 residents of Corriverton.”
The Ministry of the Presidency said that the community meeting was attended by Minister of Social Protection Amna Ally, former General Secretary of the PNCR Oscar Clarke, Central Executive of the PNCR, former Chief-of-Staff Retired Brigadier Edward Collins and Retired Lt. Col. Larry London, Chairman of the PNCR Group (East Berbice-Corentyne) Kirk Fraser, Vice-Chairman of the PNCR Group (East Berbice-Corentyne) Saidek Zalladin and Regional Secretary for the PNCR Group Shurla Scott-Richardson.
At Anna Regina on Monday, he was reported as saying by the Department of Public Information that over the years Anna Regina has struggled because of poor leadership while assuring that better leadership is on the horizon.
In both towns, bicycles were handed over to students under the Public Education Transport Service programme.