More historic developments as…Budget approved, $21B slashed
…CANU, LCDS, ERC, State Planning feel the slice
Pull Quote: “You may want to prove a point. You got a seat more and you want to prove a point, but you are making a dangerous move…this will haunt you,”- Gail Teixeira warns
By Gary Eleazar
The Combined Opposition yesterday for the first time in Guyana’s history, managed to dramatically gouge a significant portion of the monies allocated for spending in various sectors.
Following two days of cuts by Alliance for Change (AFC) and A Partnership for National Unity (APNU), the 2012 Budget was slashed by $21B with the entire $18.5B allocation for the Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS) projects gutted and reduced to $1.
This followed the previous day’s cuts to the tune of some $2.23B which targeted the Guyana Power and Light Inc. (GPL) subsidy as well as GINA, NCN and GECOM, among others.
The first victims of yesterday’s cuts as proposed in the motion by APNU’s Carl Greenidge were the Customs Anti-Narcotics Unit, Ethnic Relations Commission and the State Planning Secretariat.
Greenidge, as he proposed his cuts to the House, told the members that the Auditor General in his observations over the years has recommended that CANU be listed as a Budget Agency as against an entity receiving subvention from the Ministry of Finance.
To this end, Finance Minister Dr Ashni Singh sought to explain that as per the recommendation of the Auditor General, CANU will now fall under the Ministry of Home Affairs, and the money listed as a subvention was merely to facilitate the transition process.
“You can’t move all because you have four months of activity prior to the budget which had to be funded by interim release,” Dr Singh asserted as he sought to explain the rationale behind CANU still receiving some $20M as a subvention from the Finance Ministry.
This, however, did not find favour with either AFC or APNU who both, at this point in time, urged the Chairman of the Committee of Supply, House Speaker Raphael Trotman to put the motion to a vote.
Minister of Home Affairs Clement Rohee then sought to persuade the opposition that making a cut to Guyana’s premier narcotics-fighting entity, will send the wrong signal to the bilateral partners such as the country’s geographical neighbours, with whom greater collaboration in the drug fight is being fostered.
The Minister with responsibility for National Security sought to emphasise that the move to cut CANU’s fund “is coming at a wrong time…it is coming at a time when the fight against narcotic trafficking has assumed greater proportions.”
He said that the entity was at a time in its history where it is increasingly interdicting more and more persons who are involved in drug trafficking.
“I think that this move will send a wrong signal to the international community.”
This did little to sway the opposition vote and the $20M allocated for CANU from the Finance Ministry was slashed, leaving Rohee to call the move “unconscionable.”
The Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC) despite emphatic protests by ranks in the government benches was also subject to a $99M slash reducing its budget to $1.
It was pointed out that the ERC is the only complaints mechanism under the constitution to deal with ethnic issues.
Presidential Advisor on Governance, Gail Teixeira said that to cut funding for the agency was tantamount to an unconstitutional act, and further charged that the cut should not be effected because of personal differences with a personality who would have headed the Commission some time ago.
She was referring to the now Junior Finance Minister, Bishop Juan Edghill, who had headed the Commission, much to the annoyance of the Opposition.
“You may want to prove a point…You got a seat more and you want to prove a point but you are making a dangerous move by closing the ERC and this will haunt you,” Teixeira warned.
She said that the cut “has to be a gross violation of the Constitution of Guyana…this attempt to bring the debate on a former chairman is most ridiculous.”
The State Planning Secretariat, for which the Opposition levied a similar complaint as CANU, suffered the same fate to the tune of $105M, leaving that unit with $1.
The Finance Minister continued to express his disagreement with the moves by the opposition, saying that their complaints are without merit because the very measure that the opposition has been calling for is being implemented but is being ignored.
“I would have thought that the member (Carl Greenidge) would have seen it fit to acknowledge efforts being made,” said Dr Singh as he expressed his regret.
This left for pruning the largest project to be cut, the LCDS programme, representing close to a third of all Capital Expenditure in the 2012 Budget for which several members of the House on the Government side sought to present arguments in its defence.
Among the queries by Greenidge on this project – which represents a portion of Guyana’s equity for the Amaila Falls Hydro Electric Project as well as Amerindian developmental programmes – was why it was not represented as a foreign inflow.
To this end, the Finance Minister sought to explain that the money is not a grant or a loan, but rather payments for a service to the world, hence its treatment as revenue.
Dr Singh told the House that “the fact that our trees are standing and serving as lungs of the earth constitutes the provision of a service…it must be treated as payment for service rather than a grant or development aid.”
Greenidge then sought to turn his attention to the consultation aspect of the programme for which the Finance Minister said the process received international recognition and praise, but Shadow Finance Minister Greenidge was not satisfied with the explanation and continued to push for the cut with the support of the AFC.
Prime Minister Samuel Hinds then sought to explain the merits of the Hydro Electric Project, while the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Amerindian Affairs attempted to defend the Amerindian-related programmes
The Ministers of Agriculture and Natural Resources and the Environment also rose to the defence of the projects, but this did little to convince Greenidge to withdraw his motion.
Agriculture Minister Dr. Leslie Ramsammy tried to make his case for the Cunha project and Environment Minister Robert Persaud spoke to the Climate Change-related aspects of the projects under the LCDS, which he stressed emphatically, threatens the very existence of Guyana’s coastland.
AFC Chairman Khemraj Ramjattan pointed to more than $14B that was earmarked under the very programme but never came to fruition and the Finance Minister sought to counter by explaining that this time around the money is already in the GRIF account and further the projects are in their final stages of approval.
The explanations on the part of the government however did little to change the mind of the combined opposition who proceeded to slash the budget by another $18.5B before it was finally approved for expenditure by the House.
PM Hinds, nonetheless, contended as he spoke to the effects of the cuts that, “we will try our best…we will not give up, but it makes life so much more difficult.”
A puzzled Prime Minister asked the House, “What is their thinking? What is their vision? What do they plan for us?” He reiterated that the Amaila Falls Project will “open doors and remove a lot of risks”.
Last evening’s session brought to an end a two-week session in the House where for the first time in Guyana’s history a budget was amended, relieving the government of some of the money it had proposed for expenditure during the year.