Flexing muscles or protecting the society?
There is a lot of rush to justify and to criticize the budget cuts. Both sides of the parliamentary divide are holding meetings countrywide to put their own spin on the issue. For example, the government is accusing the opposition of thwarting development and of seeking to stall the government’s drive to take Guyana forward.
The opposition is contending that the government has been spending the public funds without any consideration for accountability. It is really repeating some of the findings in the Auditor General’s report. Over the years the Auditor General has been pointing to what he considers irregularities in the financial accounting procedures.
These reports have largely been ignored although the government has insisted that it has been taking note of the comments and recommendations in the Auditor General’s reports and has been trying to make the necessary corrections. However, as the parliamentary opposition pointed out this time around during the budget debate, monies that should be in the Consolidated Fund are not entered there.
Further, the opposition feels that because of this irregularity the government has money at its disposal—money that should really be considered part of the public treasury but which is there to be used at the whims and fancies of the government in general and the executive in particular. And there is no need for any approach to the National Assembly to spend this money.
The government says that whatever it does is in the national interest and that the opposition is always made aware of the government’s plans. It denies any irregularity and above all, it says that it can account for every penny it spends although it has failed to account properly for the money it spends if the Auditor General is to be believed.
It would seem that the issue is more than the budget cuts. The government is worried that the cuts are sending the wrong message to the international community in the face of allegations of squander mania, corruption and financial irregularities.
On Labour Day, President Donald Ramotar was most candid when he queried the likely reaction of the Inter American Development Bank. Indeed, the IDB is to be one of the main financiers of the Amaila Falls hydroelectric project. Further, the IDB has been funding numerous projects in Guyana and providing soft loans and grants.
The opposition parties say that they have no objection to making the money available but they need explanations for some of the allocations.
This is the first time that the government has found that it needs to explain its expenditures. Previous budgets were passed without challenge and this must be the custom with the result that the present challenge is not going down well.
For the first time we now see both the government and the opposition going around the country explaining the budget situation. Each side views the actions of the other as irrational. The government sees the opposition as being spiteful and vindictive; the opposition sees the government as being careless with public funds.
In some quarters, observers see this movement by the political parties as campaigning ahead of snap elections. The government feels that unless it has a parliamentary majority then it would be hamstrung; the opposition sees its role as being a representative of the majority who voted against the government.
One must not forget that when the results were declared even the international community concluded that the parliamentary dispensation was the best thing that could have happened in Guyana. The Americans, the British, the Canadians and the European Union were quite vocal in this regard.
But for all the talk on the government side, the opposition says that the government has a door open by way of the supplementary votes. The government is holding to the view that the opposition on one occasion actually voted down a supplementary provision and therefore cannot be relied on to approve any supplementary vote.
Whatever the outcome of the political foray into the wider community, one must recognize that the new political dispensation will create ripples in the government circles. Just yesterday the courts ruled on a government challenge that the action by the political opposition to modify the Parliamentary Committee of Selection was a business for parliament.
Interesting times are ahead.