$79M advanced from Contingency Fund still in limbo
…Finance Minister re-submits request for ‘ex-poste parliamentary’ consent
By Gary Eleazar
Minister of Finance, Dr Ashni Singh, in keeping with a ruling by Speaker of the House Raphael Trotman, has resubmitted a request for ‘ex-poste Parliamentary’ approval for $79M advanced from the Contingency Fund, and which was spent in 2011.
That money had come up for debate early this year in Financial Papers #7 and #8 and the opposition had voted down a number of provisions that had been requested for approval.
The Finance Minister, now with Financial Paper #9, is seeking the approval of the monies that had been voted down in Paper #7 representing that which had been expended from local coffers.
The amounts for which the Minister is seeking ‘ex-poste parliamentary’ approval include $25M as a provision for the conferment of National Awards; $29M which had been allocated for the site preparation for the construction of a specialty hospital; 18M for Capital Works at the Office of the President and 6.6M for the Ministry of Home Affairs for election-related activities..
The monies had represented the first set ever to be cut from an appropriation being sought by a Finance Minister in Guyana.
Dr. Singh at the time had sought approval for in excess of $5B which had been advanced from the Contingency Fund.
When the Financial Paper # 7 had come up for debate earlier this year, A Partnership for National Unity (APNU)’s point man on finances, Carl Greenidge, had questioned why the government had to spend $29M from the local coffers when the Indian Government for 2011 had already set aside $150M for the design of the project.
The Finance Minister at the time failed to convince the opposition on the merits of the expenditure. He had sought to explain that because the money initially allocated for the project was from a foreign source, and for a specific purpose, the government could not simply use it for a different project.
The legality of this money being represented in the 2012 budget after it was voted down was also subject to deliberation during the recently concluded Budget debate.
Dr Singh had asserted that the fact that the money was expended is a historical fact and he also contended that the authorization for such expenditure was lawful.
The Finance Minister drew reference to the fact that he was the sole authority, as provided for in the Constitution of Guyana and re-enforced with the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act and the Parliamentary Standing Orders.
Dr Singh explained also that what is now required, is an ‘ex-poste’ Parliamentary endorsement, for which he said he will move to the House shortly, in accordance with the ruling of the Speaker, when the allocations were disallowed earlier this year.
With respect to the $150M that was allocated for the Hospital in 2011 but never expended, coupled with the fact that the Minister advanced $29.1M to the project from the Contingency Fund, Dr. Singh offered clarification.
He told the House that the $150M represented inflows from India for the design of the Hospital.
This, he said, was never done, and the site preparation is being funded from the local coffers, hence the $29.1M advanced from the Contingency Fund.
Another amount that was vehemently questioned by the Opposition was a $25M allocation for the Office of the President which the Junior Finance Minister Bishop Juan Edghill sought to explain was to be used for the National Awards, for which there had been a prolonged hiatus as well.
Edghill, in his inaugural line of defence of expenditure in the Guyana Parliament, explained that there was a previous five-year hiatus of the conferment of awards.
A total of 131 persons were presented with National Awards last year and according to Edghill, the event cost the State $10M. He had said too that $15M would have been associated with the swearing-in of the new President and his Cabinet.
This did little to sway the opposition which proceeded to vote down the provisions.
Dr. Singh had vehemently protested the move by the opposition, and Speaker Trotman had ruled that the Finance Minister may resubmit the provisions. The $79M for which there has been no Parliamentary approval leaves the Contingency Fund void of that money, given that it cannot be reimbursed without the legislative arm of the administration giving its approval.