Opposition votes down supplementary provisions
… Govt. flabbergasted
“It bothers me that we are being asked to replenish money already spent, contrary to the law,” Moses Nagamootoo
For the first time in two decades the ruling administration in Guyana did not get the approval sought for monies spent in advance.
This time around they were seeking approval for $5.7B spent in the final three months of last year.
This has left the Government in “uncharted waters,” according to the Finance Minister Dr Ashni Singh.
‘Tumultuous’ would be the only word to describe yesterday’s debates in the National Assembly which went up until 22:00hrs. At issue were two financial papers for the Supplementary Provisions.
The matter ended in a stalemate as the Bill approving the expenditure could not be voted on.
It was ruled that the House will reconvene on March 15, after the Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly, Deborah Backer, who presided over yesterday’s sitting, sought advice on the way forward.
The stalemate came about after the opposition voted against several of the provisions in the first financial paper, which was for some $2.2B. Point man on financial matters for A Partnership for National Unity (APNU), Carl Greenidge, then sought to have Finance Minister Dr Singh withdraw the second one.
Greenidge sought to have the Finance Minister resubmit it with greater detail and sought to point to the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act (FMA).
Dr. Singh however contended that the FMA did not apply to that particular financial paper which led to a plethora of arguments in the House for and against.
But the presiding Deputy Speaker sought to have the matter deferred until a later date at which point she would have received advice.
The developments in the House prompted the Government to host an immediate press briefing condemning the actions of the opposition, saying that there could be no reasonable explanations for voting against some of the advances taken from the Contingencies Fund.
The point was made that while the tripartite talks will continue, the shadow of what transpired in the House last evening will be lingering.
Dr Ashni Singh said that there was a plethora of distortions of the law on the part of the Opposition. There could be no other reasonable explanation other than “political grandstanding” and “flexing of muscles.”
When asked what happens to the accounting books, given that the monies, for which approval was being sought, was already spent, Dr Singh said that the laws did not cater for this development and that the Government is now operating in uncharted territory. The way forward will have to be studied, he said.
All of the Government speakers at the subsequent press briefing expressed disappointment and astonishment at what had transpired.
From the get-go, as the scrutiny of the expenditure commenced in the National Assembly yesterday, the Opposition line of questioning pointed to a deficit in adequate planning as it relates to the expenditure of the nation’s resources.
The back-and-forth reached a point in the House where former long time People’s Progressive Party Executive Member, Moses Nagamootoo, now a member of the Alliance for Change said, “It bothers me that we are being asked to replenish money already spent contrary to the law.”
The violations of the law that was alluded to by many of the Opposition Speakers, was that the advances were not made in keeping with the criteria as was set out by the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act of 2003.
The coalition APNU immediately objected to the expenditure of some $25M said to be for expenditure associated with the conferment of National Awards and other events hosted by the State. This allocation was in addition to an already voted provision in the budget of $8.7M.
APNU’s Keith Scott sought to find out what was the justification for such a large increase in expenditure, doubling which was already previously approved along with provisions for the previous year.
Junior Finance Minister Bishop Juan Edghill, in his inaugural line of defence of expenditure in the Guyana Parliament, explained that there was a previous five-year hiatus of the conferment of awards.
Some 131 persons were presented with National Awards last year and according to Edghill, the event cost the State $10M.
At this point the AFC Chairman, Khemraj Ramjattan sought to find out when, during the course of last year, the administration realized that it would be conferring the awards, thus warranting an advance of $25M from the contingency fund as an emergency.
To this Edghill said that the process started in 2010 and was completed in 2011. He was halted when APNU’s Carl Greenidge sought to point out that Dr Singh, in September 2011, had already sought a supplementary provision. He queried why the amount was not included then.
Greenidge wondered if Dr Singh knew at the time (September) that there would be national awards and that the previously voted $8.7M was not enough, why not seek to have the advance made from the Contingency Fund at that time.
When reminded that he alluded to the fact that the Investiture Ceremony cost some $10M and that the advance was for $25M, Edghill replied that the swearing in of the new President and Cabinet cost just over $5M.
He added also that there is a $1.5M cost associated with cricket and football while another $8M went to donations.
Nagamootoo reminded Dr Singh that he is mandated by Law to appear before the National Assembly at its very first sitting following an advance from the Contingency Fund to inform the House as to the details of the expenditure.
This provision of $25M which was advanced to Office of the President during the period October to December 31, 2011 was voted against by the House as the Opposition used its majority to defeat the proposal. There cannot now be replenishment from the Contingencies Fund.
Another bone of contention for the Opposition was a provision for fuel for the Prime Minister who explained that the additional amount was as a result of a backlog of monitoring of projects in interior locations.
To this end, the opposition members sought an assurance that this money was not in fact used to travel for electioneering purposes given its uncanny proximity to the election campaign season when it was in full swing.
Hinds said that 2010 was a year of substantial rainfall and a lot of the activities he manages in the hinterland were greatly constrained. “In 2011 we had a lot of catching up to do…a lot of projects were behind time and we had to get them done.”
To this end, Greenidge sought to point out that the Prime Minister knew of the travelling that had to be done but did not budget for it. Hinds responded that he was caught up with work and didn’t realize that there was such a large backlog.
Another bone of contention in the House as Supplementary Provisions were being scrutinized, was a $29M allocation for the land preparation for a specialty hospital.
Syntax as it relates to the provisions of the law and the supplementary sought proved to be very poignant for the opposition.