House queries $70 M allocation to NCN
…even as TV station competes for advertisement
The National Assembly yesterday resolved itself into a committee of supply and commenced the first of three days of detailing specifics of the $128.9B capital, and current expenditures for 2009 will be scrutinised.
One of the figures which Junior Finance Minister, Jennifer Webster, told the House that the government would not budge from is the expenditure of $142.8M to build one centralised housing accommodation aback of Castellani House where the Intelligent Services Unit would be located.
At present, the various officers attached to this Unit, operating under the Office of the President, are located in several locations scattered across the country. Despite the bleak projections as they relate to the effects of the Global Financial Crisis, shadow Finance Minister Winston Murray failed to have this allocation deferred for another year.
In another instance, the subvention of some $70M to the National Communications Network (NCN) was called into question given that it was a company that competed for advertisement just like any other media house. Further, Government advertisements aired on that station were subjected to the same charges as private entities.
The Junior Finance Minister explained that the NCN was a state-owned company and as such the $70M was a subvention for the company to enhance its capacity.
This position by Webster prompted Murray to request that given that NCN revenues could keep the company afloat, then the $70M could have been allocated to some other sector that could have assisted the populace of Guyana given the pending economic downturn.
This was also rejected by Minister Webster but she promised an annual financial report on NCN to be presented to the House for scrutiny.
Another point raised in the debates was the fact that several recommendations by the Auditor General in his 2006 report have not been implemented but, according to the Junior Finance Minister, they were still under review. One of the points raised was an $85M allocation for minor works to which the Auditor General had objected, pointing out that several of the projects that were facilitated under that heading, in reality should not have been.
According to Ms Webster, the actual projects that came out of that allocation were at the behest of the Office of the President. She reiterated that any recommendation by the Auditor General was under review.
Another example that was raised was a $758 allocated under the Office of the President current expenditures for Subsidies and Contribution which, according to Murray, went to entities such as Government Information Agency, Castellani House and the Presidential Guards, among others, which the Auditor general had said should be budgeted for under a different specification given that they were departments of the Office of the President.
This, too, Minister Webster said, was under review by the administration.
Another bone of contention identified during the opening hours of the scrutiny of the estimates was the fact that in excess of $20M was voted for the acquisition of new vehicles to the already existing fleet of 62 vehicles and another $23M for the repairs of vehicles as well as the acquisition of spares.
This raised the eyebrows of the Opposition Shadow Finance Minister who queried whether there was any economic cost/benefit analysis done as it relates to the spending for spares and repairs when in his estimation some 10 vehicles could have been purchased duty free.
The Junior Finance Minister assured, however, that the vehicles in the 62-vehicle fleet are sold when deemed necessary. As such new vehicles would be required while some that are relatively useful would be repaired.
The estimates for the Office of the President’s current and capital expenditures were approved in the National Assembly for spending in 2009.