By Kiana Wilburg
“Utter incompetence”—this was the phrase used by the political opposition yesterday when the Government failed to answer more than 90 percent of their questions as it relates to the Financial Paper for Supplementary Estimates totaling $3.2B from October 25, 2011 to December 31, 2014.
The Financial Paper was laid in the National Assembly two weeks ago by Finance Minister, Winston Jordan, and was up for consideration yesterday.
For each line item up for discussion, the majority of the questions were directed to Jordan. To each question posed, even by some members on the Government benches, the Finance Minister said that he was not in a position to answer. He said that he would be able to provide the answers at a later date.
People’s Progressive Party (PPP) Executive Member, Juan Edghill, was the first to say that he was at a loss over what was taking place before him.
He noted that the regulations of the House require that the questions on the supplementary estimates for the various Ministries be asked of the relevant Ministers.
If those Ministers are unable to answer, only then is the Finance Minister asked to step in and provide assistance, explained Edghill.
The Parliamentarian said, too, that the relevant technical officers for the Ministers are supposed to be present during the debate of the financial order paper so that the needed guidance can be provide.
The former junior Finance Minister said that it is obvious that the Government Ministers failed to prepare for the debate and as a result, he was unable to see how one could proceed in such circumstances.
Minister of Governance, Raphael Trotman, was quick to oppose Edghill’s comments. Trotman argued that the debate, yesterday, was no ordinary one as Government is considering the spending of the former regime.
He said that given such extraordinary circumstances, Jordan should be given adequate time to get the responses for the questions being posed by Members of the House.
But Trotman’s response, for Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo, was nothing but a poor excuse for Government’s inability to be prepared.
Jagdeo, in support of Edghill’s points, told the House that regardless of the change in Government, the rules need to be followed.
“It is expected that the relevant Minister, under the guidance of his technical staff, would answer the questions posed. But to claim that the Ministers are not aware or are unable to answer at this time is incompetence and shows lack of preparation.
“The financial papers had to go to Cabinet before it comes here. If Jordan doesn’t have all the answers then that is ok but his other Ministers are supposed to have the answers. This reeks of incompetence,” said the Opposition Leader.
Public Security Minister, Khemraj Ramjattan, rejected Jagdeo’s comments. He believed that the Opposition’s attempt to “create the impression of incompetence” on the part of the Government, is without merit, especially when one takes into consideration that Government is trying to clear the spending which occurred under the PPP.
Jagdeo did not respond to Ramjattan’s arguments, except to say to the House Speaker, Dr. Barton Scotland that he would leave it to him to determine the way forward.
Scotland did not make much ado about the arguments presented. He proceeded with the debate on the Financial Paper.
Edghill commented to one of his colleagues that this is the first time a Minister is before the House questioning one of their own on spending when this should have been done at a regular Cabinet meeting.
Be that as it may, the Committee of Supplies approved the first Financial Paper.
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