– AFC seeks to prosecute PM, Housing Minister
By Leonard Gildarie
The Opposition Parties walked out of a Parliamentary session yesterday after clashing with government over a $4B additional expenditure for the housing sector. One of the opposition parties has since signaled its intention to write the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) seeking to lay charges for monies being spent illegally.
However, Minister of Housing and Water, Irfaan Ali, who along with Prime Minister was the subject of the Opposition’s wrath, said that Government was sorely disappointed that the Opposition did not see it fit to vote on a provision that will make more house lots available to the people of Guyana.
Yesterday, the National Assembly debated two Financial Papers requesting the National Assembly to approve $8B in additional expense for 2009. The additional sums were approved in the absence of the Opposition parties.
The Ministry of Housing had requested a $4B provision for infrastructural development and Minister Ali was being questioned on the provision when the Opposition Parties led by the People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR) walked out.
The parties contended that the Minister was refusing to answer exactly how the monies will be spent.
Minister Irfaan Ali, speaking with journalists shortly after the walkout was staged, said that he did not refuse to answer the questions.
“I said that the money will be used to provide 17,000 house lots for people. That is what I said. The $4B is part of a package to make house lots available in that overarching policy announced by the government for having 17,000 house lots. As I said, the house lot programme is an ongoing one; it is being implemented and will continue to be implemented.”
The Minister noted that before house lots are available, there are a number of things that must happen,
“We have to find the land. For example on the East Bank (Demerara) and on the East Coast (Demerara) there is a huge demand but we don’t have land.”
According to Ali, the Ministry has started speaking to the Guyana Sugar Corporation to purchase more lands. This is part of that programme, he said.
The Minister, fielding questions from the Opposition Parties, had stated several times that the monies would finance part of an ongoing programme in several regions. After repeating himself, he sat down and did not stand again as the Opposition also repeated their questions on how the $4B was being spent.
There were catcalls from the Oppositions that the $4B is really to be used for the government’s campaign in the coming Local Government Elections.
Chairman of Alliance For Change, Khemraj Ramjattan, said that his party will be sending a letter to the DPP asking for charges to be made against the Prime Minister and Ali for breaking the laws by using monies that should have been approved by the National Assembly.
Prime Minister Hinds has admitted in Parliament that Guyana Power and Light Inc. has received $1B in additional funds from government when the National Assembly never approved it. This is a clear breach of the laws governing how the public’s money is spent, Ramjattan said.
Meanwhile, Leader of the PNCR, Robert Corbin, charged that the clear insult that the ruling party has heaped on the Opposition in Parliament was not unexpected.
According to Corbin, it is insulting that Minister Ali could not account for $4B being spent and refused to do so when asked.
The Opposition Parties heavily grilled the government on the additional expenditure before the walkout.
One particular area of concern was for a $353M advance for the installation of fibre optic cables and terminal equipment for the Office of the President.
Prime Minister Hinds, responding to questions from PNCR’s Shadow Finance Minister, Winston Murray, said that the suppliers have been paid fully for the orders made in December. The Opposition was puzzled that monies were paid upfront and not in advances to ensure that it is delivered in time. But the PM assured that payment arrangements are secured.
However, Hinds was unable to say whether a feasibility study was carried out. Murray was astounded. The PM promised the information by the next meeting of the National Assembly.
In response to queries whether the fibre optic system at the Office of the President will be competing with the new submarine cable to the Guyana Telephone and Telegraph Company (GT&T), Hinds replied that it will provide additional support and redundancy to existing systems in the country.
On Saturday, President Bharrat Jagdeo announced that the government has already made a down-payment on another fibre-optic cable which will be routed through Brazil. This will specifically address e-governance, through which the government will use information and communications technologies (ICTs) with the aim of improving information and service delivery, encouraging citizen participation in the decision-making process and making government more accountable, transparent and effective.
Jagdeo also announced that the government is working with China on a major ICT project that would use ICTS to better do business and provide education, among other services.
He said that the government is focusing on bridging the digital divide within the country and could possibly offer subsidies to GT&T to provide internet access to poor communities with internet access.
Murray questioned whether the fact that government is putting in its own system will violate current telecommunications legislations but according to Hinds, the administration has the right to put in its own systems. He also assured that it will be subjected to the same scrutiny from the regulators as the other telecommunication companies.
A $200M additional support for the Transport and Harbours Department of the Ministry of Public Works also raised the eyebrows of the Opposition.
According to Works Minister, Robeson Benn, this money was paid over in December and part of it was used to pay the National Insurance Scheme being remittance for workers.
The Minister explained that the department is facing financial problems following the opening of the Berbice Bridge and this has led to more monies being requested. Vessels that were earning much-needed money from the Berbice crossing have been sent to the Essequibo area as the department attempts to make itself more viable.
The Minister acknowledged that the theft of fuel from vessels had proved a problem but several measures have been put into place to counter this.
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