… Granger declares Budget will be re-tailored to reflect will of the people
By Gary Eleazar
The Leaders of the Combined Parliamentary Opposition made their intentions clear yesterday as the presentations to the 2012 Budget debates came to an end by sending an unwavering message that it will be altered and tailored to reflect the will of the people at the recently concluded General and Regional Elections.
Today, the House will dissolve itself into the Standing Committee of Supply, where each allocation will be addressed specifically by the Members of Parliament, at which time various amendments can and seemingly will be made.
Leader of the Parliamentary Opposition, Brigadier (retd.) David Granger, in his maiden presentation to a Budget Debate, declared that March 30, 2012, represented the end of an era.
The date that Granger referred to was the occasion of the presentation of the 2012 Budget by Finance Minister Dr. Ashni Singh.
Granger declared that the time has come to an end where “we witnessed the attempt of a minority to craft a budget on its own and impose it on a majority…this is the last time we will see an attempt to introduce a budget not in consonance with the public will.”
Even as Granger addressed the areas where the budget needs to have a greater focus, the Alliance For Change (AFC) Chairman, Khemraj Ramjattan, called for accurate reflections on the nation’s finances and drew reference to bank accounts with monies held by NICIL, GGMC and GFC, among others, for which he said that billions are not reflected in the budget.
$3B (US$15M) ON CHOPPING BLOCK
Had there been any apprehension that the opposition, come today, will not seek to slash sections of the Budget, Ramjattan submitted for consideration slashes in the form of a motion to the tune of some $3B (US$15M).
Ramjattan has put up for the chopping block allocations to the Ministries of Tourism, Industry and Commerce, Housing and Water, and Culture, Youth and Sport.
The cuts alluded to by Ramjattan, point to Contracted Employees at the Tourism Ministry, the Bureau of Standards, International Conference Centre, Central Housing & Planning Authority and the National Sports Commission, among others.
The AFC Leader in his presentation, reminded his colleagues of the words of the late Cheddi Jagan in his 1979 presentation to the budget debates, where he said that, “if you examine the structure of the Budget, step by step, sector by sector, we can find the money to pay the workers.”
Ramjattan said 2012 is a reflection of the time where the founder leader of the ruling administration, while in opposition, had charged that the then PNCR Government should not spend on ‘fanciful’ projects at the expense of the people.
He said that this is a reflection of the same position Guyana was in when the late Dr. Jagan made the argument, and Ramjattan identified as fanciful projects this time around, the proposed Georgetown Marriott Hotel and Amaila Falls Hydro-Electric Project, among others.
“We see things in this budget that the AFC can support, but on a number of things we will be deemed unprincipled if we don’t ask for reviews, changes and alterations.”
He was also vehement in his call, to have all of the nation’s finances properly accounted for, saying that with prudent management, the money can be found to pay the pensioners and workers an increase.
Ramjattan said, “We have to learn to live within our means”. He charged that there are a number of cases of duplication in Government work, and added that should these duplications be eradicated, then the money will be located to pay the increases for the masses of Guyanese people.
“It is important that we manage our finances better, even after bloated bureaucracy.”
BILLIONS LEFT OUT OF BUDGET
This, the 19-year veteran parliamentarian said, can only be achieved if all of the country’s finances are in the Consolidated Fund.
He said that when the nation believes that it can only afford $192.8B to disperse it may not accurately reflect “what is the actual amount.”
Ramjattan was speaking to the billions held in special accounts by entities such as the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL) and the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission.
To bring home his point of monies being had outside of the Consolidated Fund, which according to him should have parliamentary scrutiny for the benefit of the people, Ramjattan drew reference to the recent sale of the GT&T shares previously owned by the Government to Datang Telecoms for US$30M.
This, he said, is money not being reflected in the 2012 budget, “We have this kind of management of our finances….Money is not reflected in the Consolidated Fund but will be reflected in NICIL Fund.”
He said NICIL sold lands to GBTI to build “that beautiful bank…but we don’t have the money.”
Ramjattan formally requested in writing, that the Minister provide an account of all the monies held in the accounts of NICIL, GGMC and the Guyana Forestry Commission, among other entities.
“That’s when we are going to know if we have more or don’t have to pay the pensioners.”
Ramjattan’s indication of a call for all the monies to be accounted for and to be reflected in the Consolidated Fund coupled with the cuts, seemed to go hand in hand with the calls of the Leader of the Opposition, Granger, to prioritise its spending.
GUYANESE TODAY DON’T KNOW BURNHAM OR CHEDDI
Granger in his impassioned presentation, devoid of heckling at the insistence of the Speaker, Raphael Trotman, told the House that given the shortcomings of the 2012 Budget, the Opposition will be pushing to have a Budget Committee established so that future expenditure will not be prepared with stakeholder exclusion.
He said that the preparation of the Budget must be a yearly cycle, as against an isolated document prepared by the Finance Minister.
Granger warned the Government that the management of public finances “is our most important annual activity and must not be left for one side of the House.”
The Opposition Leader plugged the point, that as the legislators address the issue of managing the nation’s finances, “The eyes and ears of the nation are open and the people want to know what the Budget has for them.”
Granger warned the House that a Budget is a financial plan and not a review of what happened in 1960s or 1970s or 1980s “or who is better at this or that”.
The first time Parliamentarian told the House that there are those that have become obsessed with the past “but they must realize that the budget is a plan for the future…people want to know what will happen tomorrow.”
“The majority of Guyanese today don’t know who is Burnham or Cheddi….they want to know what type of life they can expect, and young people want to know about tomorrow.”
The Opposition Leader was drawing reference to the fact that over the years, the budget debates have oftentimes descended into a history of the PNC’s 28-year rule or the ascension of the late Cheddi Jagan to the presidency.
Forbes Burnham, the co-founder of the People’s Progressive Party and the People’s National Congress died almost 27 years ago, while Dr. Cheddi Berret Jagan, co-founder of the People’s Progressive Party died 15 years ago.
BEYOND BURNHAM, CHEDDI
Granger was adamant that the time has come for Guyanese to move beyond the merits or demerits of Jagan or Burnham adding that, “Every pensioner and wage earner wants to know, this week or next week, what you (Parliamentarians) doing for we.”
He said that A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) is cognizant of the fact that a Budget is complex and appreciates the difficulties that the Finance Minister might have had in preparing the document in isolation.
Granger said that this is why APNU has been pushing for greater collaboration on the preparation of the Budget and charged it must not be a process “forced by circumstances” but rather it must be appreciated also that “no one knows everything.”
“We don’t want a collision and we will speak to anyone, anywhere, anytime, to get the Budget right. Collaboration is not an option anymore, it is an obligation,” warned Granger.
He said that the minority has to collaborate with the majority and warned that, “the days of we will go it alone are over…They cannot do it by themselves and we want to work with the other side of the House.”
The Opposition Leader whose presentation was heralded by all, including the Finance Minister, said that the budget debate is not an opportunity “to shout at each other but a time to listen.”
He said that it was not a campaign rally or an opportunity to give favours to selected communities.
Granger said that the annual ritual that is a budget debate is an opportunity to, “stand in front of the Guyanese people and say we have listened to your voices and this is the best that we can do for the Guyanese people”.
As he proceeded to make his suggestions to the House for the 2012 Budget, he reminded that in crafting such a document, APNU is not concerned only with facts and figures but also with policies.
The Opposition Leader spoke of the need for the basic rights and freedoms of people to be enshrined in the budget and alluded to: freedom from fear, freedom from poverty, freedom from ignorance, freedom from discrimination and freedom to communicate.
These freedoms, he mentioned, are addressed in allocations such as those for education, infrastructure and security, among others.
The House will today dissolve into the Committee of Supply where each of the current and capital expenditures will be addressed, amended or approved, as is resulting in the approved expenditures for the 2012 financial year.
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