The government is using state funds to campaign

Dear Editor,

Government Ministers are in the habit of saying one thing and doing exactly the opposite. I recall candidate Khemraj Ramjattan during the 2015 elections telling Berbicians that despite the rumours they were hearing, the APNU+AFC, if elected, will not close any sugar factory. We all know how that turned out. Three sugar estates were closed and over 7,000 workers were sent home. President David Granger is no different. He says publicly he wants to work along with Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo but unilaterally appoints a crony as Head of GECOM in violation of our Constitution. Now he tells the residents of Anna Regina that the APNU administration has its focus on serving not a portion of the people, but the entire country. I’m sure he failed to tell that to Ovid Morrison, the controversial REO of Region Five who stymied development in known PPP villages by starving them of much needed resources. But Granger’s speech in Anna Regina is more than just campaign rhetoric and deception; it is about downright dishonesty, and the blatant misuse of government resources for political purposes.

Editor, the last time I was critical of the ruling of the Speaker of the National Assembly, I was admonished by His Honour, who asserted that a Member of Parliament has no right to criticise the Speaker inside or outside of Parliament. Not being satisfied with the scolding I had received, the Prime Minister promptly move a Motion to send me to the Privileges Committee to be sanctioned. So, I will not go that route again. I will merely lay out the facts here, and let your readers draw their own conclusion.

In the 2018 National Budget, the expenditure allocated for “Local Travel and Subsistence” was $2.154 billion. This is an extremely large increase of $732 million over the 2014 Budget of $1.422 billion. Then under another Line Item in the 2018 Budget – “Other Transport, Travel, Postage”, $1.31 billion was allocated, compared to just $874.6 million in 2014 – an increase of $469 million.

Because Opposition parliamentarians were concerned that Ministers of Government were traveling excessively into the hinterland doing political work under the guise of promoting social cohesion, on August 7th of this year, my parliamentary colleague, Pauline Sukhai-Campbell submitted an Oral Question without Notice to be asked of the Minister of Finance in Parliament the following day. The question was, “Could the Honourable Minister provide this National Assembly with the costs of expenditure by the Government Ministers and their staff travelling to interior locations in the last twelve months? The locations and purpose of each of these visits and the costs incurred? Please also identify how many chartered flights were used to these locations and costs incurred?”

Now, as Members of Parliament, it is our Constitutional duty to have oversight of government’s spending of the public purse. Yet, this question was disallowed by the Speaker of the National Assembly, “His Honour is of the view that your question is important, but not urgent and it does not relate to the business of today’s sitting.” Not satisfied with the Speaker’s explanation, the same question was resubmitted as a Question on Notice to a Minister (of Finance) on September 28th, and disallowed again on the grounds that “the Minister of Finance is not responsible for the use of funds by other Ministers and their staff to travel to interior locations.” You get the picture?

Now that Local Government Elections are upon us, the President has made several trips to Lethem in recent weeks, and is due to return there again on October 14 for the “Official Launch” of Lethem Town Week. This is just another manufactured event to utilise state funds to campaign. I expect he will unashamedly be giving away bicycles as he did in Anna Regina in an effort to win votes. Earlier, the President going to Skeldon to distribute bicycles to children in the middle of a campaign is nothing short of obscene. For he could have easily gone to the schools to distribute the bicycles instead of taking the children to make up numbers at his campaign rally. And a compassionate President would have also taken the severance pay to the thousands of sugar workers he displaced, most of whom can’t even provide food for their families.

Granger told the gathering at Anna Regina that on November 12th, they should elect visionary leaders, “It is not just a passive town council where people just get elected and they just sit down…They have to look after public services and public health… They must look after sanitation and keep the canals clean. They have to look after security and economic growth. Elect someone who is multi-talented and willing to work, not because they belong to a political party but because they are prepared to work.” If Granger had adhered to this same principle, the voters would never have elected him and his ministers.  

Over the last few months, huge number of trips were made by Ministers of Government to Mabaruma, Lethem, Mahdia and other interior locations ostensibly to do government business. But in reality, they’re there to do political work and to distribute the PNC newspaper – The New Nation. So, the question submitted to the National Assembly by PPP/C Member of Parliament, Pauline Sukhai-Campbell that was disallowed by the Speaker, is not without merit. This government needs to stop the shameless abuse of state funds to finance their political campaigns.

During the pre-election period leading up to the last Local Government Elections in 2016, it is estimated that APNU+AFC cost the treasury almost $50 million flying campaign workers and others to the Lethem and Mabaruma municipalities alone.

Where are the international organisations and the local groups who used to talk about abuse of resources during the previous administration?

Yours faithfully,

Harry Gill

PPP/C Member of Parliament 

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