Opposition denies return of monies to OP, GINA and NCN
-PM warns of countrywide electricity tariff hike
By Gary Eleazar
On July 18 last, three demonstrators were shot and killed in Linden, as they protested against the increase in electricity tariffs.
But, according to Prime Minister, Samuel Hinds yesterday, the nation is now facing an impending electricity tariff increase.
Hinds, was at the time defending a $1B Supplementary request which was being debated in the House for the Guyana Power and Light Company (GPL).
The $1B was being held in abeyance following its gutting from the 2012 Budget but was approved yesterday.
At the time of the revelation by the Prime Minister, he was responding to queries related to what measures had been put in place to address the defects at GPL which have led to more than 30 per cent technical and commercial losses.
Hinds explained that at the time the power company had been preparing its budget, it was realized that the company would require some $10B to meet shortfalls.
He said that Government eventually committed to supporting the company to the tune of $6.5B.
As a result of the shortfall from what had been requested, the Prime Minster explained that the company had to defer maintenance among other measures to meet its cash flow requirements.
According to Hinds, the company has been holding off any increases for the past four years, but prevailing situations would force the company to increase its tariff.
He did not announce when such an increase would take effect.
Meanwhile monies for Office of the President, the Guyana Information News Agency (GINA) and the National Communications Network (NCN) were all denied by the combined Opposition.
Shortly before the vote, Leader of the Alliance for Change (AFC), Khemraj Ramjattan, wanted to know whether the ‘Harry Parmesar’ report which was commissioned following a financial falling out, related to monies payable from GT&T to NCN, had surfaced.
This report reportedly triggered the suspension of the Programme Manager, Martin Goolsarran and the resignation of Chief Executive Officer, Mohamed ‘Fuzzy’ Sattaur.
Finance Minister, Dr. Ashni Singh, explained that the report was commissioned by the Auditor General and as such he could not commit to releasing such report.
AFC Vice-Chairman, Moses Nagamootoo, along with his party leader also sought answers to several queries related to NCN and GINA but according to the Prime Minster he had not anticipated the questions and was not in a position to provide responses.
This response did not find favour with the Opposition. And the monies were voted down.
Nagamootoo insisted that “we will not permit taxpayers money to go down the drain.”
He was speaking to what he called a basic lack of accountability on the part of Government to request monies for the troubled entities. Earlier this year, the opposition had slashed the amounts of both government-owned media entities to $1 claiming that they were excessively biased to government.
A sum that did find favour with the combined Opposition was that of $635M which is to cater for the increase in old age pension from $8,100 to $10,000.
This money was approved to start payments from May 1.
Monies for McCoy
Office of the President was, however, not spared as monies came up for approval, related to wages and salaries for contracted workers employed there.
Deputy Speaker of the House, Deborah Backer, wanted to know if in the requested amount of $127M for contracted employees were monies for Presidential Liaison Officer, Kwame McCoy.
The official was convicted earlier this week for gun-butting an opposition supporter last year during the elections campaign.
Hinds, as did Chief Govt. whip Gail Teixeira, objected to the line of questioning and noted that the request by Office of the President came before the conviction. Teixeira further argued that Mc Coy still reserves the right to appeal.
This money was voted down as did another request by the Ministry of Finance for monies to be paid to Customs Anti Narcotics Unit, the defunct State Planning Secretariat and the Ethnic Relations Commission.
Dr. Singh sought to explain that as a result of the transfers of the budget agencies based on the advice of the Auditor General over the years, a situation would have arisen in any given year of this implementation to which the opposition is raising.
His explanations did not find favour with the Opposition.
Hinds was also grilled by the Parliamentary Opposition as it relates to a $170M for OP’s ICT programme.
He explained that this was in relation to the implementation of the Fiber Optic Cable Program along with that of the One Lap Top Per Family Program.
The Finance Minister defended the request saying that the projects will greatly increase its e-governance programme and that government will have its own capacity and not have to depend on either GT&T or Digicel.
The explanations provided by Government in relation to the laptop and fiber optic programs found favour with the Opposition and the money was eventually approved.
The largest expenditure for debate yesterday was for some $5.3B, which would be sourced under the Petro Caribe arrangement for the purchase of a 26MW plant for GPL.
Hinds explained that the account is in place to finance worthwhile ventures.
In preempting questions into why the money was not represented in the original budget, Hinds explained that as in true Guyanese fashion purchases would be made when monies are available.
He explained that the 26MW plant would be used as a back-up even as he sought to explain the need for Guyana to have extra power capacity.
“As opportunity came along we decided that it would be a good time to commit to this power station.”
He pointed to the many “trip outs” of the grid in West Demerara and explained that “we see a need for having (more) generation over on the West Coast (Demerara).”
Former Finance Minister, Carl Greenidge, of the APNU side, had pointed to the laws pertaining to supplementary requests which point to “unforeseen, unexpected” expenditure.
He said that at the time of the Budget cuts the combined Opposition had asked for the reform plans for the power company and says that three months later “they must have known they had money in Petro Caribe….they are toying with us here.”
Petro Caribe balance
Ramjattan prior to the vote sought to find out just how much money was in the Petro Caribe Fund and further whether there was a public tender for the procurement of the 26MW plant.
The Finance Minister told the House that government was merely looking to have the plant procured and installed before the 2013 deadline.
He said that at the time of the Budget this was not known but in the subsequent months based on information now available there is a dire need to have the plant purchased. It was disclosed that the engines would be purchased from Wartsila.
On the amounts in the Petro Caribe Fund available to Guyana, Dr. Singh said that he could not at the time provide the amount but committed to doing so at a later date.
Speaker of the House, Raphael Trotman, eventually forced a suspension of the House as haggling began over whether enough information was supplied on the expenditure.
The House yesterday heard an exchange between Greenidge and the Finance Minister where it was claimed that information had in fact been supplied to Greenidge in a private capacity.
Trotman suspended the sitting in order for the information to be officially circulated to all members before a vote was taken on the $5.3B allocation.
The pacifying measure by Trotman appeared to temporarily appease the combined Opposition.