The moment of truth has arrived for the President of Guyana. On and off the campaign trail he has indicated that he was willing to consider the ideas of the opposition parties.
The results of the elections has virtually landed the government in a situation whereby it will be forced into some form of accommodation with the parliamentary opposition parties since the PPP is one seat shy of a majority in the National Assembly.
The President showed that he was true to his commitment (regardless of whether this was forced on him by the results of the elections) when he met with his main political rivals even before the announcement of the results and soon thereafter as well.
He clearly made overtures to the parliamentary opposition. During an address to the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce, the President signaled that he would know within a short while whether he would be alone or whether the opposition was prepared to partner for development.
Well, the opposition has clearly indicated that they are willing to be such partners but APNU has put the ball clearly back into the government’s court by calling for a tripartite committee to craft the national budget.
It is a well intentioned suggestion but ill-considered, reflecting perhaps the long absence of the main opposition party from political power. Ironically, the AFC jumped headlong into the same proposal, without considering just what were its ramifications.
APNU was also calling for access to the Statistical Bureau and the Bank of Guyana, as well as the sources of the funding. This is a shocking request because APNU would have been expected to be familiar with all the various economic indicators in the preparation of its manifesto. It makes one wonder whether this manifesto that is presented at the most unholy hour was the product of guess work. In addition, the PNCR parliamentarians could have told APNU that the annual Budget estimates is voluminous, containing no shortage of details about spending per sector, per region, as well as the sources of the funding and descriptions of the project profiles.
Over the years, there has been considerable investment in improving the budgetary process, which is now carried out under detailed systems and procedures, which means that no Budget is any longer simply about plucking numbers out of oblivion. There is a process in which the various regions, ministries etc. are required to submit their requests and there are systems as to how the final numbers are arrived at.
It is not for APNU or the AFC to try to reinvent this process of compiling the estimates of revenue and expenditure. It is also not the responsibility of the opposition parties to try to sit down with the government and craft the Budget from scratch.
The responsibility of preparing the Budget is the government’s. It is however understood that no Budget prepared by the government is going to pass muster, given the composition of the National Assembly. Despite this, there has to be a more practical approach to the Budget. What is being proposed by APNU and endorsed by the AFC is unworkable and will lead to a situation where the parties will be bogged down in details from now until 2014.
A better and more practical approach would be to allow the government to come up with its Budget, present this to the Assembly after which the negotiations will start. In this way, the opposition has a working document prepared by the government with the assistance of its technocrats who would then be able to sit with the opposition and be able to provide the relevant explanations that are required.
This is far better approach than the tripartite approach being proposed. It avoids the opposition becoming exhausted with the technical process of Budget preparation; it reduces the risk of gridlock and allows instead for the compromises to be reached in the National Assembly, in committee.
This is a much more flexible approach and will give the opposition parties greater leverage in getting their own policy proposals accepted rather than the battle being waged at the level of technical preparation.
It was also very surprising that APNU would have proposed a tripartite arrangement which means the AFC, APNU and the government sitting down.
APNU is an open partnership which means that it identifies a role for civil society groupings and other important stakeholders. It was therefore shocking given its own orientation as an open partnership, given the socialist of the PNC and the WPA that APNU would propose a tripartite committee rather than a multipartite committee to allow for the inclusion of labour.
How can the working class be ignored in this way. Why did APNU leave labour out of its equation? And what about the Private Sector? How come they are not part of the process? APNU and AFC surely cannot be serious by alienating this major stakeholder from the process of developing the country’s Budget.
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