“Minister Ali obviously doesn’t feel this House deserve details…should have had project profiles…clearly he has no regard for this house.” – Corbin
By Gary Eleazar
The National Assembly yesterday approved some $3B (US$15M) in additional expenditure for the Ministry of Housing and Water, but not before the opposition had to endure several evasive answers from the subject Minister.
The request for the money was made by Finance Minister Dr Ashni Singh who told the House that cabinet has asked that the supplementary be approved.
Leader of the Parliamentary Opposition Robert Corbin immediately questioned why there was no project profile detailing how the money will be spent. He drew reference to the fact that there were profiles accompanying the original $680M (US$3.4M) provision and the subsequent $3.7B (US$18.5M), as well as the request yesterday, and asked if Housing Minister Irfaan Ali did not believe that he owed the members of the National Assembly a project document detailing how the more than $6B will be spent.
Ali calmly responded that the money will allow the Ministry to further satisfy the needs of many citizens saying that it “will further add to the investments to have thousands of Guyanese realise their dream of owning their own home.”
The vague answer seemingly angered the Opposition Leader who sought to remind the Housing Minister that, “We are here dealing with taxpayers’ money.”
According to Corbin, the law requires that with the budget, a project profile is presented so that the Parliament can know how the money will be spent and the spending can be monitored.
He said that they need to know how the more than six billion is going to be spent, asking if any of the money will be going to the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo).
Corbin repeatedly asked where was the money going to be spent, and whether any will be used at Sparendaam where there is what is being referred to as “Pradoville Two” being built.
He said that the people need to know, positing that “in an election year this money can be spent for political purposes….we need to know how the six billion will be spent …where, how and on what?”
Ali told the Opposition Leader that the $3.7B that he made reference to was already debated in the House last week and he did not have to worry, the government will be accountable in their spending, adding that it was the current administration that effectively reintroduced the Auditor General’s Office as well as the Public Accounts Committee.
After repeated calls for details, Minister Ali proceeded to rattle off a number of locations where roads are being built in places such as Linden and Region Five, but he was interrupted by Speaker Ralph Ramkarran, who suggested that he has a printout of the document circulated.
In his listing of places where the roads will be built, Ali did not attach a cost to the locations and this prompted more questions along those lines.
Alliance For Change Chairperson and Presidential Candidate, Khemraj Ramjattan, sought to query from the Housing Minister whether the $3B he is asking for was not planned prior to asking for $3.7B the previous week.
The Minister said that in his budget presentation he had told the House that the housing demand would require much more than what was voted for in the budget, and as the resources allowed, he would make requests.
He said that the economy has outperformed the projections and as such they are seeking to make the investments in a timely manner.
The question was then asked by Ramjattan if the money was going to GuySuCo, to which Ali said that in order to build houses they need to buy land and as such have to approach the owners of the land to purchase it.
Corbin subsequently chided the Minister saying, “Ali obviously doesn’t feel this House deserves details…should have had project profile…clearly he has no regard for this House.”
Corbin then drew reference to the fact that in each instance that Ali had said works are going to happen he spoke of building roads, and questioned why it is that the roads are not being built by the Public Works Ministry instead.
To this assertion Ali said, “we have an integrated approach to development…wherever people live it falls under the ambit of housing…we have a inter-agency coordinating group,”
In exhibiting his frustration over what he said was a lack of answers, Corbin said that at least “Guyanese will know of the lawlessness in this House.”
He asked if this was not an attempt to have a sum of money for political uses, to which Ali replied in the negative, stating that “it is not a political manoeuvre to deliver to people…it is a delivery of what we were elected to do.”
When asked what timeframe there was for the spending of the money for which the supplementary financial paper states, “for the period ended 2010-12-31”, Ali said that they will spend within the allotted timeframe.
This newspaper understands that despite the fact that the allocation is for the period ending today, there is a four-month roll-over provision.
Ramjattan then queried why the request now, when there will be budget in a matter of weeks, to which Ali replied that as the resource is available they wanted to deliver it in a timely manner as it “will allow us to steamroll into the future.”
In response to a query that the request “exposes a serious lack of planning,” Ali told the House that the request was “a reflection of the strong performance of Guyana”.
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