Govt. fumes over another round of ‘illogical’ opposition proposals
…as disjointed opposition manifests with renewed calls to cut Budget
By Gary Eleazar
The Parliamentary Opposition yesterday continued to reveal the fracture between the two
parties as Alliance for Change (AFC) Chairman Khemraj Ramjattan, and A Partnership for National Unity (APNUs) Carl Greenidge both submitted motions proposing another round of cuts to the 2012 Budget.
This publication understands that each of the proposals submitted by the two opposition parties which have not been seeing eye to eye recently were prepared and submitted in isolation sparking a rush for ‘after the fact consultation’ with a view to consensus.
The cuts now being proposed by the opposition vary between parties but primarily focus on Office of the President and the Ministry of Finance.
In the APNU proposal Greenidge is threatening to cut the entire $6B subsidy that has been set aside in the budgetary estimates for the Guyana Power and Light as well as the programmes listed under the Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS) to the tune of some $18B.
The AFC looks to deplete the GPL subsidy by $1B.
That $18B allocation includes amounts to finish the Amaila Falls Access Road as well as Amerindian land titling and the Amerindian Development Fund for village economy among others.
Greenidge’s motion, while it largely leaves the Government fiber optic/ICT programme untouched looks to make cuts from NCN and GINA as well as Contracted Employees at Office of the President.
Following the decision by APNU to withhold support when the AFC had indicated an intention to make cuts, Ramjattan re-submitted his second wave of cuts.
While Ramjattan’s proposed cuts include GINA and NCN there is a departure from APNU’s $18B threat to the LCDS programmes.
While the proposals have been downplayed by seasoned government and opposition politicians as nothing but ‘negotiating leverage,’ this did not stop the Government from lambasting the opposition party’s move.
At a hastily held press briefing, even before the House took its first break from the Standing Committee of Supply, which it has resolved itself to consider the estimates, Prime Minister Samuel Hinds, Finance Minister Dr Ashni Singh and his junior, Bishop Juan Edghill, aired their concerns.
At that briefing held in the Parliament Building’s Library, the three Government Ministers fired back at the combined opposition and requested an immediate recall of the proposals.
The Finance Minister used the opportunity to again remind media operatives of a commitment given by the government, when asked by APNU’s Volda Lawrence, of the possibility of working together on the budget.
This he said, has been yielding fruit and pointed to one condition of the meetings where there would be the smooth passage of the budget ‘as is’ with no cuts.
“It could not possibly be in the national interest to cut the budget whimsically purely for the purpose of demonstrating political might.”
Speaking directly to the newly proposed cuts, Dr Singh said that it is, “astonishing that the opposition would think it appropriate that these areas merit downward adjusting.”
The Finance Minister told media operatives it “is astonishing that APNU would suggest a complete cut of the subsidy to GPL.”
He did draw reference to the fact that the AFC also submitted a cut which he said was without reason or basis but less draconian that the APNU proposal.
“Let me say that this is a measure, this is a proposal that runs directly counter to interests of the electricity consuming public which is essentially the people of Guyana.”
“We explained that the subsidy was made necessary by the fact GPL last adjusted tariffs since December 2007,” and fuel prices have since increased by at least 60 per cent with no corresponding increase in tariff by GPL, hence the subsidy.
“The Prime Minister has always been at pains to explain that a subsidy to GPL is not really a subsidy to GPL, but a subsidy to the final consumers of electricity.”
The Finance Minister expanded further saying that the proposal by APNU as it relates to GPL, is in stark contrast to its position taken on electricity and the people of Linden and that subsidy.
“APNU has most recently adopted the position that they are insisting that the electricity subsidy be preserved in Linden, holding in mind that electricity is virtually free in Linden.”
Dr Singh repeatedly emphasized his astonishment that notwithstanding the fact that customers of GPL pay significantly higher electricity tariffs than Lindeners, it (APNU) is promoting the retention of the subsidy for the Region Ten community and the removal of that from the other GPL consumers.
Dr Singh also spoke of an $18B cut that has been proposed by Greenidge which Dr Singh said would affect Guyana’s equity in the Amaila Falls Project and under programmes under the LCDS programme.
He said that this was quite puzzling where a bilateral partner would agree to fund a programme in Guyana and a local stakeholder would want to deny such an investment.
Dr Singh stressed that the LCDS programmes are being implemented with the assistance of key major international partners such as the Kingdom of Norway, UNDP and the World Bank among others.
Junior Finance Minister Bishop Juan Edghill also expressed surprise as some of the cuts to the Office of the President which he says would terminate the employment of hundreds and leave the President with only “Presidential Guards.”
Edghill questioned which President in the world operates with just his presidential guards and no support staff such as advisors and personnel such as the Head of the Presidential Secretariat?
“It is completely incomprehensible that the APNU would propose to cut all of the LCDS projects from the budget.”
Speaking to the cuts suggested by the AFC for the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) Dr Singh wondered who could conceivably argue against an adequately resourced Elections Commission bearing in mind the lamentations over the years?
He reminded of the lamentations each year about the fact that local government elections have not been held since 1994 but yet the AFC would want to stymie the possibility of this happening this year as a result of the cut.
Dr Singh reminded of a campaign promise to have local government elections held within 12 months of General Elections