APNU column – THE EXERCISE OF POWER BY THE MAJORITY IN THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY
…and the implications for Guyanese and multilateral agencies.
Consideration of the annual budget for 2012 in the National Assembly was completed last Thursday evening but the job of grasping the implications has only just begun. Many members of the public are expecting results which are not possible at this stage, while others are treating completely unrelated events as consequences of the Assembly’s decisions.
The sources of this confusion are often the result of PPP propaganda spewed by the so-called national media in its determination to paint the opposition as a negative force and change the existing balance of political forces in the country. But the core issue must be understood: the Opposition sought to eliminate waste from the budget and find resources, which the Government claims it does not have, to increase pensions, social assistance, and wages and salaries for our over-burdened Public Servants, Policemen and members of the Disciplined Forces. We have found these resources.
The Opposition MPs may say many things during the budget debate or even during consideration of the Estimates which follows that debate. Those comments are part of the record but they will not lead to a change in the figures which make up the Budget unless they can be reflected in the numbers that form the tables we call the Estimates. The changes are subject to certain rules and the main rule that needs to be noted is that the Opposition cannot raise taxes, increase the proposed expenditures or remove items completely from the tables.
The activities of NICIL are not contained in the Estimates, for example, so there was no opportunity to deal with the arrangements for the Marriott Hotel or the GT&T shares the Government recently sold to a Chinese firm. These matters will have to be dealt with via another mechanism such as a motion or the Economic Services Committee.
The government is taking Court action to try and prevent the Opposition Parties having enough members in this latter type of body to vote against the Government. In similar vein, only Government Ministers can propose increases or decreases in taxes such as the VAT; the Opposition even as a majority cannot make such proposals.
It is for this reason that the APNU in December and then in April called on the government to undertake consultations on the Budget. Both calls failed to yield talks or meaningful proposals. The same applies to public service salaries.
The examination of the Estimates provides useful information for both MPs and the public. We were able to find out that the Minister of Finance had put aside resources that will permit payments of up to 14% of the wages bill or increases in combination with additional employment.
We also discovered that some Ministers employed Administrative Assistants and administrative and clerical staff that were paid as much as $300,000 per month whilst fully qualified and experienced engineers were being paid as little as $125,000.
The engineers themselves are being paid various salaries for the same job in different Ministries. The difference depends on who recruits them and how much influence they exercised in the Office of the President (OP) Ministries or if they were recruited by the PSC (which is bound by transparent rules regarding qualifications and emoluments).
We also learnt that there are a variety of sinecures – jobs for the boys – in the Office of the President where former Ministers and friends of the Administration are being paid as much as $1.3mn and $3mn per month for work that is either not evident or political work for the PPP.
We were unable to eliminate most of these because the rules of the Assembly require that written and advance notice be given for action. The discoveries were only made after asking a range of searching questions.
Whilst APNU was not able to get Government agreement to a 10% across-the-board rise in Public Service salaries, we were able to confirm that money for far more than 10% is available in the budget. It is for the unions and workers representatives to ensure that the Government does not hang on to these amounts until December pretending to be negotiating and searching for funding for the increase.
We expect that having provided $5bn of the $6bn the Government requested for the GPL subvention, rates will not be increased in 2012. The additional $1bn could be provided if the company provides to the National Assembly as promised, a plan showing how it will establish and maintain its viability in future.
The $4bn requested for Guysuco is also extended on condition that they also provide a plan. The majority in the National Assembly also called on the Government to appoint professional and non-political Boards of Directors that reflect the make-up of our community. Although this could not be enforced via the Estimates, the APNU at least intends to hold the Government to this obligation.
In addition to this, the Opposition reduced the allocations the Government requested for some agencies and activities. The most prominent of these are GINA and NCN. The case of GINA is straightforward; state funds were never voted to fund PPP activities or for abuse of the Opposition. The funds come from taxpayers and the staff and management should respect this even though the Government does not. Their job is to deliver news about Government policies and national events not to sell PPP propaganda.
The workers of the agency have a responsibility to the taxpayers as well as to the Government and should not permit themselves to be used for party purposes. Propaganda is to be funded by the PPP, the so-called Freedom House.
If the PPP intends to continue using the agency for PPP propaganda they should find the money to pay the workers.
The claim that NCN workers will have to be put on the streets because of the reduction in the government subsidy is mischievous. The agency earns enough (over $300mn) from its other revenue sources to retain an acceptable work force. It is meant to be a commercial company and should not therefore receive subsidies especially when such monies are used to put private companies out of business or to pay unnecessarily high amounts for services, such as Test matches and one day cricket, which the private sector had been able to secure at lower prices in the past.
Employees of publicly-owned entities put their long term employment at risk when they bow to the improper demands of Ministers at a personal and professional level. They cannot expect to receive sympathetic consideration from the National Assembly if they continue to pander to Government demands to ignore internationally accepted and professional standards and undertake unacceptable practices such as ghost writing – letters attacking Opposition Parties and MPs.
The APNU is unhappy that employees are being threatened with the loss of their jobs. The loss of the subsidy can be made up over time by more aggressive advertising drives and greater efficiency in operations. The board of this company also needs to be made fully professional and non-political. This has been a demand of the majority in Parliament.
In the case of the State Planning Secretariat (SPS) and the Customs Anti-Narcotics Unit (CANU), the decision by the majority in the National Assembly was based on the recommendation of the Auditor General. The Ministry has for years been advised to make organizational changes, so that these two agencies and their accounts are properly located.
SPS was scrapped many years ago and the staff should have been absorbed into the Ministry of Finance (MOF) at that time. The Minister said that they are in the process of doing this. The majority is seeking to ensure that he does not again forget. It is to be completed during this year and the agency is not to be used to fund emoluments of persons whose employment and salaries they wish to hide.
CANU is charged with customs and drug interdiction. It should not be classified as a local agency or NGO outside of the Ministry of Finance!!!! That classification is a device intended to enable the Government to have the managers of the entity politically appointed and not answerable to the Head of the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) or the Police.
Here again we have the case of the PPP Government politicizing key agencies by populating them with inappropriate persons and similarly having them supervised at an operational level by Ministers and their political cronies as happens with Community Policing Groups. Such persons have no right giving instructions based on political expediency and extraneous considerations, to public officials dealing with the law and civil rights.
It should be emphasized that in neither the SPS nor CANU case should competent and qualified staff be sent home. The Auditor General did not take a decision to close the SPS. That was a decision of the PPP Government. The AG’s recommendations require that institutional arrangements be made appropriate. The APNU and AFC seek nothing else.
The position of the APNU regarding Amaila Falls was set out in the Shadow Spokesman’s Budget statement. He cited widespread concern about the absence of feasibility studies, the signing of contracts before finance has been obtained, arrangements for the financing of the project and most importantly the likely price at which electricity is to be delivered under the proposed regime.
No clear information is available on how SITHE Global is to come by de facto equity in the venture and why it is also to be the consultant/developer. What has the Government done about this apparent conflict of interest, for example? Contrary to the statement made by the President, neither the management contract for Sithe Global nor that for Atlantic Hotels Inc has been provided to members of the National Assembly. Both are crucial if a full assessment of this and the other projects is to be made. The Government therefore need not pretend that all the dots are in place save for the irresponsibility of the majority in Parliament.
The process they have been pursuing is regarded as irresponsible in every well run state.
As for the claim that the interests of the Indigenous People (AI) have been undermined by the action in cutting the budget for the LCDS under which the Hydro has been placed: first the projects were grouped in this manner to silence the Opposition into supporting the project. They were expected to be too embarrassed to criticize projects directed to the AI community.
In fact, as Sidney Allicock pointed out in his statement in support of the motion, money was provided for land titles in the past and that exercise remains to be satisfactorily completed. Indeed, in many instances the AI communities were dissatisfied with the loss of control over significant segments of the lands apparently allocated to them.
This complaint points to the heart of the problem with the three projects, the refusal of the PPP government to properly consult with AI communities through the agreed mechanisms. They supplanted these with their own on grounds that the community process was taking too long. So the Minister supplanted the Toshao and met with some communities directly in an attempt to bully them.
This is one of the reasons why the Government has not won clearance for funds to be either approved or disbursed.
Furthermore, the unusual arrangement the Minister of Finance (MOF) put in place for this project needs to be noted. He has budgeted for the project as though it is entirely locally funded. Cutting the funds therefore will not affect implementation as long as the foreign funds arrive.
Why then is he making such a fuss? The reason is that the GOG is trying to bully the World Bank (IBRD), the UNDP and the IDB into releasing the funds although the GOG has not satisfied all the conditions for disbursement. They argue that if the National Assembly, which includes many AI leaders, passes the project how could these multilateral agencies insist on more consultation?
This is why the PPP MPs were in such frenzy during the debate on Mr. Greenidge’s motion.
The term bullyism has been employed by the MOF in discussing the actions of the majority in the National Assembly. He should know. It applies to PPP behaviour towards AI and the MFIs.
Most importantly, in view of this situation and of all the hype over the importance of the project as a transformative factor, it is surprising that the multilateral agencies working on behalf of the Norwegians, do not seem much interested in meaningful consultation with the non-state actors, let alone the majority in the National Assembly.
They like the GOG also need to wake up and smell the coffee!
This is after all a Minority government.