Apr 18, 2012 News
By Gary Eleazar
Finance Minister Dr Ashni Singh yesterday made his presentation/rebuttal to the 2012 Budget
debates where he sought to rip through the arguments put forward by the opposition.
“With a few exceptions” he acknowledged but condemned the majority of opposition presentations as “political grandstanding.”
The Finance Minister however closed his presentation on a completely different tone from the one with which he started and commenced to plead with the opposition to use its ‘scissors’ judiciously as it attempts to make cuts to the $192.8B Budget.
Already the Alliance for Change (AFC) Chairman, Khemraj Ramjattan, has outlined some $3B (US$15M) to be placed on the chopping block.
Dr Singh in wrapping up his presentation urged the combined Opposition, “Don’t use the power of the majority of one, to cut solely for the purpose of cutting. It is the people of Guyana who benefit from the services provided. Join us, and if we were to be guided by the platitude offered, there is still some hope.”
The Finance Minister called on the House, particularly the combined opposition, to not wield the “tyrannical emblem of the dictator of one, the scissors, capriciously.”
He said that were the opposition to do so they would be “venturing perilously close to squandering the golden opportunity that presents itself with the new dispensation in the House”.
Dr Singh cautioned that even if the opportunity would have been lost during the past days of “political grandstanding” in the House, “it would be my sincere hope that over the next six days there would be judicious and responsible conduct”.
He said that as the combined opposition gets set to make its cuts to the 2012 Budget, it must be borne in mind that the allocations speak to important government programmes.
As the Finance Minister opened his presentation he immediately acknowledged the Leader of the Parliamentary Opposition, David Granger’s presentation, which he conceded as the only statesman-like presentation to the House from the Opposition benches and said that it was rich with positive contributions.
The Finance Minister took specific umbrage to charges made by the ranks in the AFC benches, particularly that of the party Chairman Ramjattan and Dr Singh’s longstanding parliamentary colleague formerly on the same side of the House, Moses Nagamootoo.
In taking Ramjattan to task, Dr Singh told the House that “we must not be shy of embracing objectives when we agree with them and we must not oppose some for the cause or purpose of opposing.”
He said that the Budget debate is never intended to be an exercise in intellectual exhibition or a contest of linguistic or oratory versatility.
“Tragically, with a few exceptions, it is my own estimation that my colleagues on that side of the House missed the opportunity completely,” Dr Singh retorted.
NICIL, GGMC PRIVATE ACCOUNTS
Speaking directly to the charges made by Ramjattan as it relates to finances being hoarded outside of the Consolidated Fund, hence not being fully represented in the Budget, and the need for this to happen, the Finance Minister indicated that the administration was satisfied with the current arrangement and signalled that it will not change.
According to the Finance Minister, all of the agencies that the Parliamentarian referred to are registered and operate under the Companies Act of Guyana.
He said that these companies are public corporations and as such arguing that their revenues are not reflected in the budget is akin to arguing for the Guyana Sugar Corporation or the Guyana Power and Light’s revenue streams to be reflected in the Budget.
Dr Singh insisted that each of the agencies are subject to the relevant audits and reports under the Act and while it may not be as timely as the opposition would like they are being undertaken.
He made no clear commitment to have any of the monies controlled by the separate agencies to be transferred to the Consolidated Fund.
Dr Singh insists that the Budget is a reflection of the expenditures and programmes for Central Government which are specific budget agencies, such as the Ministries.
He said that Central Government is designed by statute to have boundaries, and as such, NICIL and GGMC are within regulations to control the monies under its purview.
Central Government’s budget, he explained, is not one that includes entities that are separate or established under a statute.
MARRIOTT AND AMAILA FALLS HYDRO
On the issue of the proposed Georgetown Marriott Hotel, Dr Singh said that it was disappointing to see that even after the Government has made available volumes of documentation as it relates to the project, the opposition is still harping on the issue.
Ramjattan retorted from his bench that the feasibility study for the project was never supplied.
Dr Ashni Singh said that the administration is prepared to make available all documentation, provided that it is not covered under any confidentiality agreement.
He said that even the confidentially agreements do not hinder the government’s revelations to the opposition and drew reference to a special in-camera session held on the proposed Amaila Falls Hydro Electric Project.
Dr Singh told the House that the Members of the Opposition were privy to a presentation by NICIL boss Winston Brassington, where all of the details were ventilated and the opposition queries were aptly addressed.
This he said was done at a session chaired by Head of State Donald Ramotar, and reflects the importance with which the Government treats with sharing information with the opposition.
This he said was not even acknowledged by the Opposition that continues to make misrepresented statements on the project.
“Instead of reflecting on the documents, all we were treated to is, we don’t need another hotel,” said Dr Singh.
He said that on the Amaila Falls Hydro Electric Project, following the presentations to the opposition, the government was given kudos, but this was moot during the debates and rather the Opposition treated the nation to sound-bites.
Dr Singh said that it is alarming that the opposition would behind closed doors praise the project but return to the House and debunk it. He said that this speaks to the credibility of the Opposition when it talks about meaningful engagements.
“I didn’t hear anything from the opposition on the analytical work done on project…all I heard was political sound-bites and rhetoric designed to get headlines and cast Government in bad light.”
VAT REDUCTION WILL NOT HELP THE POOR
The Finance Minister also took the political opposition to task on the issue of the Value Added Tax. Dr Singh told the House that on the campaign trail the Opposition presented VAT as a millstone around the necks of Guyanese and that its reduction would alleviate poverty.
To this end, the Finance Minister challenged the opposition, saying that a reduction in VAT would only help the wealthy. He qualified his assertion by saying that VAT is charged on consumption, and the basic necessities for the poor are already zero rated.
Dr Singh explained that should the VAT rate be reduced by 2 per cent then the savings to a poor consumer will be reflected at about $300 for a $50,000 per month salary, whereas a wealthy person making a purchase will attract larger savings.
“The most vulnerable will benefit the least from a reduction in VAT,” Dr Singh declared even as he said that the administration, “would have thought that it is a self-evident fact…This is not rocket science”
The Finance Minister also chided the opposition’s stance on Guyana’s political history saying that for a frank discussion to be had on the nation, it has to be accepted where the country has progressed in order to understand the current growth and future trajectory.
“It is from this history that we are recovering. To pretend it didn’t happen or to rewrite the history is most reprehensible.”
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