THE AFC WAS THE SPOILER!
On April 18, 2012, talks began between APNU and the government on the Budget. The government had agreed to meet with APNU following a request made by that grouping in the National Assembly. There was immediate success in the talks, with both sides agreeing to an increase in old age pensions to $10,000 per month.
On the same day that agreement was reached, hundreds of public employees took to the streets to protest an insane proposal by the Alliance for Change to cut an unbelievable 3.4 billion dollars from the ministries of Housing and Water; Tourism, Industry and Commerce; and Culture, Youth and Sport.
It was truly an amazing proposition and raised questions as to the real intent of this unusual proposal by the AFC which was said to be based on advice given to the party. What advice! Imagine proposing to cut the appropriation of three ministries alone by 3.4 billion dollars. Just what was the AFC thinking?
The AFC’s motion to cut the budget of the three ministries eventually came up for hearing but APNU, no doubt not wishing to be embarrassed by this proposal abstained, thereby defeating the plan by the AFC to institute the cuts in the three ministries
The AFC was furious at APNU’s abstention. In an internal email which was leaked to the media, the AFC expressed its anger upon learning of APNU’s decision not to support the AFC’s cuts. APNU was in that email accused of not behaving consistently and with integrity as regards the matter.
In reaction, the media reported the opposition leader as saying that APNU was not interested in dismissing public servants or preventing the government from functioning. And in a further signal that there was likely to be a deal between the government and APNU, he was reported as saying that APNU was interested in accountability and transparency, and not confrontation.
The Prime Minister had reported that the sides had agreed to the elimination of GPL tariffs and the elimination of the subsidy in the manner outlined in the Budget. This was another indication of progress being made in the talks between APNU and the government.
Interestingly, in what may not have been a totally unrelated development, the Commissioner of Police tendered his retirement. His removal had been long sought after by APNU.
By this time, APNU was coming under intense pressure over its agreements with the government. In what was seen as a reaction to those criticisms, it issued a statement calling on the government to implement a series of relief measures before raising electricity tariffs gradually In Linden. This was also indirect confirmation that APNU had agreed for the gradual and selective increase in tariffs in exchange for further relief for the mining town, including the introduction of micro financing schemes, further liberalization on TV and radio licences, and reducing the dust problem.
The opposition leader also sought to deflect criticism that the party had sold out Linden, insisting that APNU had urged for a long timetable for the increases in electricity tariffs to be applied. He was quoted by the Stabroek News as saying, ‘We’re talking about maybe two years or so, but there is not going to be a sudden spike, and that is not our agreement.’
In relation to the charge that APNU had betrayed the AFC, the opposition leader made it clear that APNU did not feel that it would be in the national interest to embark on a course of action that would endanger the jobs of public servants.
In relation to the cuts for contract workers as proposed by the AFC, the opposition leader was quoted as saying that the move was an indiscriminate one, noting that while the AFC had used the term ‘fat cats’, many of these workers had opted to work on contract and some work for a normal salary, and it is not ‘a category of outlaws.’
It did seem at this stage that there was a deal in the making that would allow for the passage of the Budget.
In the meantime, the AFC had begun to poach on APNU’s support base in Linden, exploiting the disaffection felt over the agreement reached between APNU and the government on the electricity tariffs.
The AFC had made a foray into Linden. APNU, no doubt fearful that the AFC could capitalize on the situation, gave in to the pressure for the AFC to be part of the talks with the government.
Once the AFC with its irrational suggestions about cuts joined the talks, it was bound to end. At no point during the debate on the estimates did the AFC demonstrate any reasonableness.
It ultimately became the spoiler of the progress that was being made between APNU and the government, a development that now sees all manner of disingenuous explanations being given for the cuts which were proposed.
Given the background to the talks, once the AFC came on board, it was bound to collapse. New demands would have been placed on the table and these were bound to pose problems, especially considering how the AFC had sought to slash 3.4 billion from three ministries alone.
It was therefore no surprise when both parties indicated that significant changes would be needed before the Budget was passed. Ultimately, as expected, the talks collapsed.