2012 Budget to be approved with no cuts
…$4.5B CJIA airport expansion money approved unchallenged
By Gary Eleazar
With just three days remaining for the Combined Opposition to make any cuts to the $192.8B 2011 Budget, all indications point to the estimates being approved without changes.
This is according to a very senior official involved in the negotiations and affiliated to A Partnership for National (APNU), who contends that in light of the ongoing negotiations, it is very likely that the 2012 budgetary estimates will be approved without any cuts to the estimates allocated.
Several senior government sources have confirmed that one of the primary objectives of the extra-parliamentary meetings on the budget is to ensure its smooth passage through the House.
Prime Minister, Samuel Hinds, on Thursday when he made his announcement to the House had said that “the Government believes that these meetings have been useful in creating a wider and better understanding of the inevitable, specific trade-offs in the fashioning of our nation’s budget and in avoiding unnecessary collisions.”
On the issue of the Linden electricity tariff, PM Hinds spoke of ensuring a strict adherence “to the allocation provided in Budget 2012 bearing in mind applicable budgetary constraints.”
The APNU official said that while the issue of wages will continue to be on the front burner of the talks, it will boil down to more than numerical statistics and references such as the allocations in the budget.
The official said that at the very least APNU is looking for a concrete, positive indication from the President (Donald Ramotar) and his team that there can be a return to respecting/observing the Collective Bargaining Agreement among other pertinent and related issues.
The official underscored APNU’s insistence that the government must desist from each year, arbitrarily imposing an increase at the exclusion of unions and other stakeholders.
The APNU official says that the coalition of parties believes that the issue of wage increase should not be at the behest of politicians and rather the employers and unions should be among the primary determinants.
The official says that another key element on the agenda is that of the reduction of the Value Added Tax (VAT) but conceded that these issues would require long term and in-depth analysis and as such the remaining three days with which to trim the budget leaves little time to realistically and holistically address the problem.
The official explained that APNU, and speculated that the (Alliance for Change) were both not interested in slashing the budget merely for the sake of cutting.
As per the Parliamentary Standing Orders, the opposition is limited to successfully trimming or completely degutting allocations in the budget using its one vote majority.
It is the Finance Minister, (Dr. Ashni Singh) however who is the sole authority to make an increase for any expenditure provided for in the allocations, or can re-allocate monies for spending in another arena.
To date there has been only one substantial challenge to any of the allocations and that was defeated when APNU abstained from voting.
AFC’s Chairman, Khemraj Ramjattan had submitted a $9.8M slash to a security allocation for the Housing Ministry after the substantive Minister failed to satisfy the Parliamentarians’ request.
The allocation was for $18.8M, up from $7.3M. Ramjattan unsuccessfully proposed to slash that vote.
Despite the opposition pronouncements on issues such as the Cheddi Jagan International Airport (CJIA) Project, APNU has not threatened to cut anything.
When the more than $4B allocation for this project came up for debate in the House, first time Parliamentarian Joe Harmon, from APNU’s frontbench sought to find out if the Minister would be willing to provide the contract document only to be told that this was already done.
This marked the end of the challenge/queries on the project which APNU has criticized repeatedly, and Harmon took his seat.
This past Wednesday the Finance Minister reported a whirlwind breakthrough from Office of the President as a result of the talks with Ramotar and Granger.
Dr. Singh reported that the Government had agreed to increase the old age pension to $10,000.
This was a departure from the announcement made by Dr. Singh during his budget presentation when he said that government would have increased the payable old age pension from $7,500 to $8,100 — a $600 increase that was scoffed at.
The following day’s announcement by the Prime Minister came against the backdrop of a protest in Linden, and he also announced results from the Ramotar/Granger meeting, saying that there would be a focus on the reactivation of small business financing facilities for the depressed community.
He also announced that more TV licences would be issued among some other measures.
The Opposition Leader, Granger had explained that at the end of the debates aspect of the 2012 Budget sessions APNU was invited to a meeting at the behest of Speaker of the House Raphael Trotman where both the Alliance for Change and Government were represented.
Granger said that at that time it was recognized that there would be grave difficulties as it relates to Budget consensus as the legislators were about to sit in the Standing Committee of Supply where any cuts could be made to the budget.
This, he said, was unless some changes were made and drew reference to his budget presentation as well as the presentation of the AFC where it was expounded on that “there were some aspects of the budget which were not acceptable. It was in this regard that the Speaker convened the meeting.”
Granger said that arising from that meeting, certain decisions were taken with one such being to “seek a negotiated way out to prevent a collision which would delay the passage of the budget.”
The former brigadier in the Guyana Defence Force turned politician told this publication that “all we wanted to see was that some of the concerns that had arisen during the campaign and the interest which we were committed to ensuring were given representation in the budget and taken on board.”
Granger said that the meetings outside of the House were aimed to ensure that the Budget satisfies the will of the people and their interests.
“This meant that concerns about old age pension, concerns about employment of public servants and concerns about the University of Guyana would be reviewed by the government side so that we wouldn’t attempt to proceed with a budget which left these important issues out.”
Granger said that this resulted in the meeting with President Ramotar yesterday morning, “and these matters were put on the table.”